Monday, September 25, 2017

CoC Strategic Work Plan Online Learning Clinic: Address Racial Disparities in Homelessness and Service Delivery - SPARC

A recent interview on Think on KERA really got me thinking, to belabor the pun. The host, Krys Boyd, was talking to Margaret Biser. Biser had written about her experiences, as an African-American guide at a colonial plantation museum. 
A man called in and was incredulous as to how descendants of slave masters could feel anything but shame. He told of the shame he felt having discovered that he shared that heritage. He asked for her guidance, in how he should deal with this. 
Biser shared that she had discovered that not only was she descended from a specific slave owner; the man she was descended of had a role in the slave trade! 
Then she drove this point home: There is nothing we can do about the past. Our ancestors, good, bad or in between are gone. There is something we can do about the present and the future, and there we must act. 
I find this tremendously edifying regarding the fight to end the modern homelessness crisis. We can and should ask how our country so colossally failed our citizens, that we allowed the modern homelessness crisis to happen. We can and should help individuals discover how they themselves became homeless. We must reckon with the fact that each one of us had a role to play in perpetuating, if not creating this crisis. However, this dwelling in the past is of utility only insofar as it helps all of us learn from it. 

The main question we need to ask, again, as a society and as individuals, is what do we do now? What do the facts on the ground tell us about what will end the modern homelessness crisis, and make homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring in our community. Fortunately, we have evidence based practices to answer that question. We know diversion works, we know coordinated access and assessment work, we know Housing First works, and we know that there is no substitute for a unified effective homeless response system, where we all share our data with each other and with the public. 
And, we know that the very issues Biser discusses are relevant to the discussion of homelessness. The overrepresentation of African Americans in the homeless population is not something we can ignore or explain away. It is a hard truth we must face, and all of us are responsible to fix this problem. 
This is why, about one year ago we embarked on an open-ended journey to rectify this ill. With the support of United Way of Metropolitan DallasUnite Dallas Relief Fund, and in concert with other communities across the nation, we embarked on SPARC. This program, Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities, led by the Center for Social Innovation, has helped all of us begin to come to terms with what we need to do, as well as act on it. 
Indeed, because the numbers show us how important an issue this is, we devoted the seventh of our seven goals in the CoC Strategic Work Plan to this issue. We recognize that unless we, as a community and as individuals, face this issue of overrepresentation of African Americans in homelessness, we will never end homelessness. 
We encourage you to review this goal in whole in our CoC Strategic Work Plan. And again, don't just use this as an interesting learning exercise; figure out what aspect of this work you can get involved with, so you can become part of the solution. We all have much work ahead of us. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

CoC Strategic Work Plan Online Learning Clinic - Increase Access to Affordable Housing - The MDHA Flex Fund

Read the first blog post in our CoC Strategic Work Plan Online Learning Clinic series, Rapidly House Youth, here. Each post drills down into another aspect of the plan, to encourage you to get involved, and help us make measurable progress in ending homelessness. To maximize your learning and your ability to make an impact, we recommend you carefully read the entire first page now. Then review the entire page or pages that the individual blog post pertains to, as you read each post.

This time we focus on Goal I on page 2: Increase Access to Affordable Housing. The only thing that truly ends homelessness is housing. However, like any other scarce resource, you need a delivery system to ensure that this resource is deployed in the most efficient manner. This delivery system is made up of all of the different entities who are working together in our community to end homelessness. Our role is to serve as the backbone organization that brings these partners together, and turns them into a unified homeless response system. This is systems thinking at its best.

Now, proper systems thinking entails, at its very basic level, figuring out what input is needed to arrive at the optimal output. Our homeless response system is a leader in recognizing that one of the most important inputs in such a system, is a flexible assistance fund, like the MDHA Flex Fund. This is why one of the action items under this goal is to raise money for this fund. Since its founding by MDHA and United Way of Metropolitan Dallas in late August 2015, it has proven to be one of the most powerful weapons we wield in the fight to end homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties.

The idea behind the MDHA Flex Fund is simple: A minor but impactful expenditure inhibits a person from ending his or her homelessness. The MDHA Flex Fund pays that expenditure, and the person can make progress in ending his or her homelessness, if not end it altogether, in short order.

Much of what we do is, well, complicated. I usually say that if you need our elevator speech, we better be going up to the top floor of a very tall building! This why we have a Strategic Work Plan and a Playbook. In that context, one of the most beautiful things about the MDHA Flex Fund is its simplicity. In fact, we can even tell stories about it backwards, starting from the end, and as long as we include a link, you not only understand what it’s all about, but probably need a tissue to dab your eyes:

  • $103.53. $103.53 allowed Jonathan to reconnect his electricity, and avoid a return to homelessness (and a miserable Christmas).
  • $120.75. $120.75 allowed Daniel and Karla to remain housed, Abraham to pursue a job, and Richard to become eligible for a housing voucher. No, not $120.75 each; $120.75 total.
  • $95, $149, $200. $95, $149, $200, respectively, allowed Kisha, Sarah and Laura to move from shelter into housing.
Recently, as a requirement of our United Way funding, we were asked to submit a detailed report on the MDHA Flex Fund’s impact for July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017. A few months ago, I wrote about how I love site visits, and I equally love having to report on our performance. A report, when done well, forces you to take a step back, reflect on how you are doing, learn what is working well and what is not, and move forward with renewed vigor and purpose. This is why we actually chose, in the site visit and in our reporting, to go a few steps farther than what United Way requires, and report on the MDHA Flex Fund in a more granular manner. We broke down the solutions provided by the MDHA Flex Fund into 17 categories:

Even a cursory observation of these numbers tells you a number of interesting things. Most of us don’t realize how important critical documents are in escaping homelessness, yet this category is the top category in sheer numbers, while not being that high in cost.  If you took the statement we opened with, “The only thing that truly ends homelessness is housing,” too simplistically, you might not realize the importance of basic furniture in ending homelessness. This is the fifth highest category in sheer numbers and the fourth highest in cost. And, not surprisingly, almost $30,000 was spent on categories that have the word “rent” in them.

These numbers remind us, when we dig a little deeper, that this program is fully dependent on the folks we call our “unsung heroes,” case managers, whom we celebrate in just a few days. The MDHA Flex Fund is an important tool in their hands, and any tool is only as good as the person wielding it. They also remind us that our system is most powerful when partners join hands to work together, be it these case managers, utilizing the MDHA Flex Fund, be it the MDHA Flex Fund and the Dallas Furniture Bank, be it MDHA and DART.

Based on the numbers we reported, here is our current estimate for MDHA Flex Fund expenditures for July 1, 2017-June 30, 2018:

This is why it remains vital, as this action item states, to continue to raise funds for this important and vital tool: the MDHA Flex Fund. Through adept use of this tool, we can and will increase access to affordable housing for our homeless friends.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Sneak Preview of the Case Manager of the Year Award Luncheon

We wanted to give you a sneak preview of our preparations for our first annual...

September 19, 2017, 11.30am-1.30pm
J. Erik Jonsson Central Library - O'Hara Hall (7th floor)

While some luncheons feature a keynote speaker, our luncheon is a little different. You will get to hear two-three minute testimonials of clients of our nominees, as they share what a difference these professionals made in their lives
Kayla Modesto, Nominee
This last Friday, we spent all day recording interviews with these clients, to capture these testimonials. I wasn't in the room, but Rebecca Cox, our Vice President, who conducted them, kept asking for more tissues to dry her eyes, for some reason...
Tiffany Price, Nominee
We also conducted interviews with a few of the nominees themselves, of which we will share two-three minute highlights. I was personally struck not only by how impressive each and every one of these individuals is, but how humble they are.
Benjamin Bailey, Nominee
We are so lucky to have such people in our community, working day in and day out, with our homeless friends! Don't miss out on the chance to join us in honoring them.

Get your tickets today, for just $25 a piece, by
clicking here or on one of the nominees' pictures, or just copy this link into your browser: