Multiple pathways exist to access resources, centralize information, and increase capacity and coordination of services and agencies
The current mantra: Do more with less. Or at least: Do well with less. The after effects of the economic meltdown have forced everyone to look strategically at how to meet growing needs with fewer resources. Families who often become homeless, for the first time due to loss of job, foreclosure, medical emergency or other economic catastrophe, look very similar to other low-income working families.
More than 90,000 area residents receive benefits or services through County of San Diego Health & Human Services Agency. Many more turn to nonprofit organizations to help them fill the gaps to remain housed and fed. With so many opportunities to “touch” the lives of these families, the Keys to Housing stakeholders focused on how to better coordinate the network of community agencies to provide an easier and more streamlined system for consumers to navigate. Tying resources together across the region can be challenging.
Through the Keys to Housing process community leaders agreed on key strategies and tools to provide multiple, linked pathways to resources and services. The first builds on existing strong collaborations to serve as “front doors” to services through a network of triage, assessment and referral. Cross-training staff across agencies and linking homeless prevention services to other family and community support resources are strategies that will bring results.
Keys envisions ‘Navigator’ services at agencies currently providing intensive case management. To serve more families with reduced resources, Navigators can provide short term assistance and guidance for those who can find resources, complete applications, and follow-up with agencies more independently. It is estimated that more than half of households at risk of or experiencing homelessness for the first time could have their needs met through the support and short term services of a Navigator rather than longer-term intensive services1. This means more resources would be available for those families requiring more extensive services to succeed. The Navigator model could be piloted at sites already connected to a strong community network.
Finding affordable housing is one of the most difficult tasks a family faces. Since many affordable housing complexes and rental assistance programs have waiting lists several years long, it might take 100 phone calls to find appropriate and available housing. The development of a new regional, database of publicly subsidized and private affordable housing could greatly facilitate finding housing. The database would include an online screening process for preferences and eligibility, and the ability to apply to multiple waiting lists with the click of a mouse, saving time and energy for both the consumer and the housing provider.
Another key tool identified to improve the pathways to resources is the sharing of data across agencies, allowing them to streamline eligibility and application processes for the household. Rather than submitting the same information numerous times for various services, the applicant could choose for information to be shared between partner agencies. Agencies could better serve clients by understanding the types of services they are currently using, or benefits they have been unable to receive and matching the needs.
Coordination of financial resources is also an important tool in the toolbox. Currently, many government funding streams can have little flexibility. The HEARTH Act seeks to improve this, and other federal and state funds may be motivated to leverage and coordinate as well. Keys to Housing seeks to advocate for more flexible and less categorical funding to better serve the needs of vulnerable families.
These tools will all require the coordination of agencies throughout the region to actualize maximum benefit. Each goal is achievable, and would improve service to residents, reduce costs and duplication, and improve community outcomes.
What we will measure to track our progress over time:
- Use and growth of Database of Housing options
- Use and growth of centralized client/service database
- Extent of services linked together through community agencies, schools and 211
1Based on HPRP data 2009-2010.