Thursday, April 27, 2017

They Couldn’t End Their Homelessness without It

British actor, Roger Daltrey, in one of the iconic American Express card commercials from 1985

How often do you find yourself without identification? The answer is, probably not that often. Most of us, in the words of the old American Express commercial, don’t leave home without it. This is why many find it surprising that over 10% of us do not have a government-issued photo ID. Not surprisingly, those without an ID tend to be poor, minorities, and/or elderly.  

Many of these same people manage to navigate life without an ID. However, ending a person’s homelessness can be challenging, if that person does not have some type of government issued identification, and cannot afford to get one. It seems that to paraphrase the same commercial, you can’t end your homelessness without it.

About six weeks ago, Daniel and Karla*, two neighbors who had experienced homelessness in the past, found themselves in a pickle. They were both living in permanent supportive housing, funded by a Federal grant. The agency which had received the grant ceased to operate, but our grantee, CitySquare, was prepared to keep the residents in housing. Daniel and Karla each had to present a government issued ID (at least a birth certificate), but neither of them had one. What were they to do?

About four weeks ago, Abraham was experiencing homelessness. He was determined to find a job, so he could become housed. He knew that he would need a government issued photo ID to get a job, and that to get the photo ID, he needed a birth certificate. He had obtained a birth certificate with the help of our partner, The Stewpot, but alas he could not find it. (It is difficult to keep all your documents and valuables in place, when you don’t have a home!) He would have to wait an entire year to be eligible for this help again. What was he to do?

Just three weeks ago, Richard was experiencing homelessness. CitySquare was helping him get everything in order, so he could apply for a Dallas Housing Authority voucher. He had a driver’s license, but it had expired. Without renewing his license, he would not be able to apply for a voucher. What was he to do?

Fortunately, about two years ago, through surveys of clients and service providers, MDHA had identified a variety of needs (beyond housing and supportive services), that Dallas’ homeless population faced, in their struggle to end their homelessness. One of these needs was critical documents, such as government issued identification. These needs may not be covered through existing federal, state and local government grants, that fund programs for the homeless.

Thus, with the help of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, the MDHA Flex Fund was born. The idea was simple. A minor but impactful need, such as the lack of a birth certificate or photo ID, impedes a client from (making progress in) ending his or her homelessness. The Flex Fund pays for it. That’s all there is to it.

That is how we helped Daniel, Karla, Abraham and Richard. Their case managers submitted a simple one page form. The form asks for the client’s information, what the client needs (including cost and vendor), articulation of how this will help the client end his or her homelessness, and an explanation of why other resources (including the client’s) cannot provide (for) it.
A classic Shavon Moore selfie
Shavon Moore, MDHA’s Continuum of Care Resource Manager, reviewed each request, approved it, and provided payment directly to the vendor. In fact, as is often the case with critical documents, in Daniel, Karla and Abraham’s cases, Shavon could quickly order the documents and pay for them online. Once they arrived, the case managers picked them up from the MDHA Offices.

Research shows that ending a person’s homelessness, quickly and permanently, is not just the right thing to do; it is the most cost effective thing to do. How cost effective is it to end a person’s homelessness with the help of the Flex Fund, specifically? The numbers speak for themselves. The cost of helping Daniel and Karla remain housed, Abraham pursue a job, and Richard become eligible for a housing voucher was… $120.75. No, not $120.75 each; $120.75 total. Now, that is not a bad return on investment!

* All client names have been changed, to protect their privacy.

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