To effectively end and prevent homelessness requires a system-wide, coordinated community response. Resources must be aligned under a shared strategic vision. The Building Bridges Blog post in October 2018 described some of the conditions necessary to facilitate an optimal community system:
“In order to shift toward a new way of operating, it is important to reframe how we view the system, how we fund programs, and how we match resources to need across the full spectrum of housing needs.”
This blog post will discuss in further detail the first component: how we view the system.
A SYSTEM VIEW IS NOT NEW
In May 2009, Congress passed the HEARTH Act (Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing), which reauthorized the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (MCV). MCV provides the largest single source of funding for homeless assistance programs.
The HEARTH Act led to the creation of a federal strategic plan to end homelessness; this strategic plan improved interagency coordination and local adoption of evidence-based practices. The HEARTH Act required local Continuums of Care (CoCs) to create a Coordinated Entry system so that anyone who needs housing assistance can easily access a community’s available resources. Prior to Coordinated Entry (CE), someone in need of housing assistance would have to contact multiple providers without any guaranteed resources. The CE process has required that community agencies coordinate with each other to serve residents more effectively and efficiently. Now formally organized as a system, the array of available resources is much better matched with the identified needs in the community. Additionally, this allows, when necessary, adjustments to be made across the system.
The HEARTH Act also established a system-wide public accountability mechanism for CoCs. Called System Performance Measures, these metrics have helped the community employ local data to understand how well the individual programs work together as a system. Before System Performance Measures, the overall picture for funders was limited by individual agency reports; many agencies had unique outcome measures. This prevented funders from aligning or collaborating to tackle a complicated problem like housing. System Performance Measures have laid the foundation for the community to move beyond provider-specific visions to, first, better understand the full scope of the problem, and then how providers can complement rather than compete to implement solutions across the continuum of housing need.
Homelessness and housing instability, and related factors of employment, health, education, childcare, transportation and other areas of well-being, can each be viewed as separate issues. This siloed view can diminish the accuracy of problem evaluation and effectiveness of potential solutions. Operating as a system is the first step in addressing the problem of housing.
Courtney Morton coordinates posts on the Building Bridges Blog. Courtney is the Housing & Homelessness Research Coordinator for Mecklenburg County Community Support Services. Courtney’s job is to connect data on housing instability, homelessness and affordable housing with stakeholders in the community so that they can use it to drive policy-making, funding allocation and programmatic change.