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Guest Blog: What We’ve Learned about What Works to End Chronic Homelessness

December 02, 2013 Print ShareThis

Author: Beth Sandor, Director of Improvement, Community Solutions

Each month, around 120 communities report their monthly housing placement numbers to the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a national effort, coordinated by Community Solutions, to help communities house their most chronic and vulnerable neighbors. That’s a lot of performance data, and it’s helped our team draw some important and statistically significant conclusions about what’s working and what isn’t in communities across the country.

The goal of collecting monthly housing placement data is to help communities develop a transparent feedback loop. Unlike PIT data, monthly data can help local teams build on bright spots and troubleshoot red flags in real time. It also provides a meaningful benchmark to determine whether or not a specific community is on track to end chronic and veteran homelessness by December of 2015, the federal goal under Opening Doors.

But monthly housing placement data has another important use-- it allows us to compare the performance of cities and towns across the country to identify common factors among the highest performing communities.

We recently asked all of our enrolled communities to complete our Self-Assessment Tool (SAT), a 90-question community survey that asks questions about resources and strategies across local agencies and providers. In exchange, we provided each community with a detailed feedback report outlining its strengths and weaknesses and proposing specific, customized strategies to improve its monthly housing placement rate. So far, 82 communities have completed the SAT, and early analysis reveals five factors that significantly distinguish high-performing communities from those that continue to struggle:

  1. Implementing Housing First on a system-wide basis. Housing First is the best way to end chronic homelessness, yet most communities still aren’t implementing it system-wide. Our data shows that true Housing First communities are ending homelessness measurably faster than their peers.
  2. Creating and continuously updating a prioritized, by-name list of homeless neighbors. To end homelessness, we must continually identify everyone experiencing it by name and prioritize chronic and vulnerable people for housing systematically. Communities with a formal way of doing this are housing more people monthly than their peers. Many of these communities are also integrating their PIT count with the VI-SPDAT, or another tool for knowing everyone by name.
  3. Setting eligibility criteria for permanent supportive housing as a community, rather than at the provider level. Communities are empowered to set community-wide eligibility requirements and asked to do so under HEARTH. Setting agreed-upon, community-wide eligibility standards, especially for turnover units, typically result in better targeting and higher monthly housing placement rates for chronic and vulnerable homeless individuals.
  4. Using shared data to drive decision making around housing. The most successful communities in the country are finding creative ways to share data in real time across multiple local agencies. (Salt Lake City and Phoenix both offer excellent examples of this work.) These communities are expediting the housing placement process for people experiencing homelessness through shared release of information (ROI) forms across local agencies. Many are also utilizing shared vacancy lists so that everyone has access to the same list of available units at any given time.
  5. Implementing a concrete plan to tap Medicaid and CDBG funds. In many cases, under the Affordable Care Act, new Medicaid dollars will be available to pay for case management, health care, mental health care, wellness/preventative care and/or substance abuse treatment services in supportive housing. Similarly, HUD provides funding to communities through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program to fund decent housing for low-income adults and to expand economic opportunities. Communities like Portland, Philadelphia and New York with concrete plans to leverage these types of funding are achieving measurably higher monthly housing placement rates than their peer communities.

Our national data makes clear that communities would do well to implement these five factors if they want to end chronic and veteran homelessness by December of 2015. Joining the 100,000 Homes Campaign is a great way to get assistance in each of these areas for free while connecting with other peer leaders working toward the same goal. We also invite continua of care and other community-wide organizations to take and submit our SAT survey. The survey takes about an hour, assuming representatives from various local agencies can be gathered to complete it together, and for those communities participating in the Campaign, we will provide a free, customized feedback report based on the results.

Take our SAT survey, join the Campaign, and learn more about the work our communities are doing at

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