Recently the City of Boulder Human Services department released a work plan for homeless services. We want to share with you our thoughts on the plan. Should you choose to review it please find the full document which begins on page 95 Click Here.
The good news: the principles put forth in the work plan recommendation provide a framework for Boulder to re-create an evidence-based homeless service system that – improves the day-to-day experience of people experiencing homelessness; demands coordination between funders, policy makers and providers; and emphasizes the creation of housing-based solutions to move people off the streets.
The test: Can our community adopt and implement this plan? To do so we have to be willing to challenge the status quo, adapt management practices, and adopt new program concepts.
Successful implementation of the work plan requires –
- Clear direction from policy makers and funders
- Agreement that ignoring homelessness is not good for the community as whole
- Acknowledgment from the community that to more effectively address homelessness we need to site new and/or re-envision the use of existing facilities
- Political will and funding to develop housing and services
- A change in thinking around how we prioritize our resources for people who need them most
The Plan – High Level Points:
Prioritize People with Higher Needs and Create Program-based Shelter –
A one-size fits all approach to getting shelter doesn’t work. For too many years we have seen very vulnerable people fall through the cracks or, sometimes worse, get stuck in a fragmented emergency sheltering system. We support program-based sheltering for people who have high needs. We envision a system by which program-based shelter for people selected based on vulnerability provides stability (a minimum of a 30 day stay with renewal options) coupled with trauma-informed services for mental health, addiction recovery and more to address the well-known needs of the chronically homeless members of our community. We know more than 100 of our highest utilizers of services in Boulder need this type of evidence-based model now, today.
We have tracked patterns of service use over the past 5 years that confirm that our emphasis on emergency programs that address needs for one night or one day only perpetuate homelessness. While we absolutely cannot abandon the need for walk-up services and short term interventions as defined in the navigation center and overflow concept in the work plan, if we can successfully convert our focus to providing robust support to those who need us most, those who have been stuck in our emergency system for years, and provide them with an exit we can shrink our overall homeless population.
This is a true housing-first approach.
Housing Targets –
Everything we do from a nightly bed to a welcome meeting assessment needs to be about our ultimate goal – finding housing for the person experiencing homelessness. We support the targets to build more permanent supportive housing and more vouchers for rapid re-housing. We would add that we should also look to build more capacity for creative housing models that are more cost-effective and community –based such as the model we have at Ready to Work House which offers dormitory-style housing for 44 people.
If we don’t create more housing, no matter how well we assess or offer programs, we will still not solve homelessness.
Combine day and night services –
Embedded throughout the plan is a call to combine day and night services for both light touch users and high need individuals.
We support this concept. Since I started at Bridge House, the challenges of fragmentation between day and night services have caused great harm to people experiencing homelessness as well as system inefficiencies that have negatively impacted the community. We, Bridge House, have consistently stated that if a person experiencing homelessness can get services (both basic needs such as meals, and program access such as case management) where they reside – whether that be for one night or for 6 months or more – that is the most humane and practical response. We need to break down barriers, not build them, for people experiencing homelessness by streamlining services. For too long we have created artificial obstacles for homeless people by requiring them to run all over town to meet their basic needs.
Coordinated Entry & Common Assessment and Navigation for Homeless Clients –
We believe that coordinated entry and common assessment of each person who is seeking help is fundamental to address their needs quickly and effectively while making the most efficient use of community resources. Technology and evidence-based assessments exist to re-vamp our system to allow for common assessments that will adequately place people into programs and housing for the best outcome.
Bridge House’s intake and assessment model provides the pre-curser to this system and we look forward to building upon what we have started with our use of an intake tool and “welcome meeting” process to properly route people experiencing homelessness to the right intervention.
For the past 4 and half years Bridge House’s Resource Center has provided navigation services. In 2016 alone we saw 1800 unique clients and provided 13,000 case management interactions. Over half of these interactions can be characterized as navigation or diversion services such as benefit acquisition, family reunification, access to transportation and more. Click here to read our Annual Report.
What will Bridge House do within a new system?
We will do what we do best. We will be client-centric, we will innovate and we will collaborate.
- Our commitment to Ready to Work is absolute. We are expert in providing employment services and running social enterprise. We will grow the model in the City, County and region as needed. Ready to Work is an example of a housing-based exit.
- Our commitment to feed hungry people is absolute. As evidenced through our Community Table meals and our culinary arts training program at Community Table Kitchen that employs Ready to Work trainees, our commitment to providing food for hungry people and jobs for people who seek a career in food service is absolute. We hope to provide meals, as needed, across the newly envisioned system.
- Our commitment to sharing our expertise on case management specific to homeless adults is absolute. We have nearly a decade of experience, a terrific data system, and we intend to share it.
We are dedicated to creating a system that works.
We will remain collaborative with our government and service provider partners to help in implementing a system that works for people in our community experiencing homelessness and for the community at large.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you want to discuss this further.
Thank you for your on-going support of Bridge House!
Isabel McDevitt – Executive Director