An Ecosystem describes a group of interconnected elements both individually and by their interrelationships in a defined area. The typical ecosystem is a feedback loop, wherein dependencies and other conditions stressing one group can stretch an entire system to the breaking point. Observing, defining, and quantifying the discrete elements; cataloging their interconnectedness; and standardizing the tools for studying and evaluating the system is the only way to ensure the system is fully maximized for efficiency and effectiveness.
To that end, Mecklenburg County Community Support Services (CSS) in partnership with UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, is producing the Housing & Homelessness Ecosystem of community providers as a first step in what is envisioned as creating a culture of continuous improvement. In order for the Ecosystem to be meaningful to those observing it (such as funders) and credible to those within it, certain things must be accomplished to establish a baseline. These components include standardized definitions; identified roles and responsibilities; quantified capacities; and named funding sources.
The Housing & Homelessness Ecosystem standardizes community definitions for each type of housing intervention along the entire housing continuum. In order to describe an Ecosystem, all of the participants and observers must have a common language. Terms adopted in other parts of the United States or the world may not be useful when describing a localized system. Therefore, definitions within the Ecosystem integrate existing housing definitions from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) with nomenclature from local housing interventions to create a new, community-specific vocabulary. The end result includes everyone and can be easily translated across funding sources. This is an important component for system alignment, which will lead to improved efficiency and effectiveness.
Four main categories appear on the Ecosystem. These span housing interventions across the spectrum; serving households facing housing instability and homelessness, and incorporating the range from prevention to permanent housing. Prevention is a category targeting households facing housing instability who have not yet lost their housing. Diversion is a category targeting households who are homeless and seeking emergency shelter. Temporary Housing is a category of housing interventions that provide short-term, temporary housing assistance to households experiencing homelessness. In contrast, Permanent Housing is a category of housing interventions considered to be permanent in nature. Permanent Housing includes housing assistance through rental subsidies, unsubsidized housing, and homeownership; the length of assistance may be as short 3 months or entirely open-ended so long as a household continues to meet eligibility.
Next week’s Building Bridges blog post will delve further into each category and housing intervention.
WHO DOES WHAT, CAPACITY & FUNDING
The Housing & Homelessness Ecosystem describes the housing interventions, capacity, and funding type associated with each agency. This is the core function of the Ecosystem mapping, and is grounded in the standardized definitions described above. Simply describing the Ecosystem is a huge undertaking. Therefore, the focus for the first year of the Ecosystem is to design and build a foundation for understanding the full landscape: who does what. It is critical that the community understands each of the separate components that make up the whole; how those elements interact with each other; and what the impacts of shifting resources may be on each component as well as the entire system.
A subsequent blog post will explore these areas more comprehensively.
To effectively address housing instability and homelessness across the housing continuum, the entire system must work together: aligning resources; streamlining processes; and seeking opportunities to coordinate, collaborate, and complement.
The Housing & Homelessness Ecosystem, which will be released in September, offers the community a system-level view for system-wide work. Check out upcoming blog posts to learn more about the first Ecosystem report.
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.