Ending Homelessness Requires Teamwork and Passion

It’s March in the Bluegrass. Chances are, even if you’re not a sports fan, you know that means it’s NCAA March Madness time. Ah, yes. Basketball! This year, four Kentucky teams made it into the men’s tournament—UK, Louisville, NKU, and my alma mater, the Murray State Racers! On the women’s side, UK and Louisville also made it in. Congrats to all of these teams! Your hard work throughout the year has paid off.

So, why am I talking about basketball on our Strategic Housing Blog? Teamwork and passion. Obviously, homelessness is a serious matter and the experience itself is not analogous to any sport. But teamwork is critical in working to end homelessness and it takes strategies to make lasting impacts to break the cycle of poverty.

To be a great basketball team, to make it to the tournament, and to win it, teamwork with a purpose, passion, and focus on continuous improvement is required—not just once a year, but every day. Working to end homelessness requires the same type of strategic coordination, focus, and community-wide commitment—but the stakes are much higher.

Building a strong basketball team requires coaches to assemble players with different, yet important skills. So, too, does building an effective homelessness response system that allows a community to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place, help people gain safe, permanent housing quickly when they do, and work to ensure they never return to homelessness after they are housed.

Each year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), holds a national competition to award approximately $2 billion in grant funding through its Continuum of Care (CoC) Program to help communities achieve the shared goal of ending homelessness. The CoC Program is designed to promote community-wide collaboration and commitment to this goal. The CoC program is also a funding source that provides much needed resources for permanent housing assistance and supportive services to persons experiencing homelessness, especially those with the highest level of need such as people with substance use and/or mental health disorders and persons fleeing domestic violence.

To compete, communities are required to form local “Continuums of Care.” Think of a CoC as a “team” working together to address, and, ultimately end, homelessness. Kentucky has three CoCs—the Lexington CoC; the Louisville CoC; and the Kentucky Balance of State (KY BoS) CoC, which encompasses all 118 Kentucky counties except Fayette and Jefferson.

Over 380 CoCs across the nation compete against each other each year. Try drawing that bracket!

HUD recently announced the recipients of grant funding awarded through the 2018 CoC Competition, which ended last September.

The KY BoS CoC will receive $9.4 million dollars, an increase of more than $1 million since the 2017 CoC competition! This funding is critically important to reduce the number of our fellow Kentuckians living on the streets and in emergency shelters. In Fiscal Year 2018, KHC and our partners across the state provided shelter and permanent housing solutions for over 9,300 persons. The increased CoC funding received this year is a testament to the hard and effective work KHC and our partners are doing around the Commonwealth to help people obtain and maintain permanent housing.

The 2018 CoC funds will be used to support the work of 53 projects from 27 partner agencies across the BoS. In addition to supporting the work of 49 existing projects already serving individuals and families, the BoS will receive funding to support 4 new projects. Two of these projects, totaling $869,830, were awarded through a set-aside of funds Congress appropriated specifically to provide rental assistance and supportive services to households fleeing domestic violence. The set-aside, known as the DV Bonus, was awarded through an additional competitive process whereby CoCs were scored based on need, capacity of the project applicants, and the overall performance of the CoC. Our CoC received both of the DV Bonus projects for which we applied—yet another example of the excellent work of our partners. This was the first year the DV Bonus was available to CoCs. Two great KY BoS CoC partners, the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence (KCADV), based out of Frankfort, and Barren River Area Safe Space, Inc. (BRASS), located in Bowling Green, will administer these new grants, though the resources will be eligible for use anywhere in the BoS.

For some perspective on the need, when we applied for the funds, we had to describe the unmet housing need on a single day for victims of domestic violence experiencing homelessness. On a single day in September 2018, we knew of 254 households actively fleeing domestic violence that were staying in emergency shelters. Unfortunately, the CoC only had the capacity to serve just one additional household in an existing Victim Service Provider (VSP) rental assistance project that day. Of households experiencing homelessness not related to domestic violence, another 846 households were in need of housing assistance, yet most organizations were already at capacity. Clearly, the need is great, which is why it is critically important that we compete well in the national CoC competition and that we work together to find ways beyond CoC funding to provide affordable housing solutions and support to help keep people housed.

Of the 44 Balance of State CoCs included in the report,
the Kentucky BoS CoC ranks the 6th highest in performance.

So, what makes a CoC compete well in the national competition? Over the past several years, HUD has increasingly based the competition on system-level performance. Areas for HUD evaluations include the average length of time persons remain homeless (e.g., staying outside or in an emergency shelter), the number of people who become homeless for the first time, the number of persons experiencing homelessness that are able to obtain permanent housing, rates of return to homelessness, and the extent to which persons served through the homeless response system are able to increase their income.

The National Homeless Information Project recently released rankings of CoCs using empirical data from system level performance measures submitted to HUD by each CoC. Of the 44 Balance of State CoCs included in the report, the Kentucky BoS CoC ranks the 6th highest in performance. We are certainly proud of this ranking, but we know our work is far from over.
 
CoCs are also scored on the extent to which they are able to successfully reduce homelessness among certain subpopulations, such as veterans, those experiencing chronic homelessness, families with children, and persons sleeping outside or in other places not meant for human habitation. CoCs are scored on the extent to which they are able to partner with public housing authorities to create pathways from homelessness to long-term housing stability. They are also scored on their ability to connect people experiencing homelessness with mainstream benefits, including child care assistance and health insurance. Accomplishing these things takes a great deal of effort and strategic partnerships but brings the benefit of stabilization to these clients. Additionally, HUD rewards communities that are creating a systemic response to homelessness and that are strategically allocating resources by using data to drive the decision-making.

Kentucky Housing Corporation (KHC) is the lead planning organization for the KY BoS CoC. In this role, we help coordinate and implement the strategic direction of the KY BoS CoC. KHC is also responsible for preparing and submitting the CoC application to HUD each year during the competition, and we administer the majority of our CoC’s projects.

The KY BoS CoC is governed by an advisory board made up of elected representatives—two from each of the 6 KY BoS CoC regions; two ex-officio members representing KCADV and the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky (HHCK); and up to five at-large members representing the public’s interest; and at least one member who is currently or who has previously experienced homelessness. The CoC is ultimately guided by its membership, which is made up of any interested individuals or organizations committed to ending homelessness. The membership provides input, approves the governing structure of the CoC, and elects the members of the advisory board.

Just like a great basketball team needs strong point guards, a CoC needs a strong leader out front in its advisory board. But, in basketball and in the CoC team, it’s not just those on point who make a team successful.  A strong CoC should include not just temporary shelters (though they are, indeed, critically important), but also many others who can provide permanent housing options and resources for supportive services.

An effective CoC team needs the help of the health care sector, education system, workforce development, housing developers, and so many more team players. Our community has many talented people and organizations that are really good at what they do. As Michael Jordan once said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”

Are you ready to join the team working to end homelessness?

If you’re not already a KY BoS CoC member, visit KHC’s website at www.kyhousing.org and learn more about the Continuum of Care under Specialized Housing. The KY BoS CoC will be holding a series of six regional meetings in April 2019. The meetings are free and open to all people interested in ending homelessness. Details about the upcoming meetings can be found on the website, Continuum of Care. We invite you to join the KY BoS CoC team working to end homelessness. Please contact KHC’s Housing Contract Administration Help Desk for more information regarding these regional meetings or participation.

The 2019 HUD CoC Competition is expected to start in May 2019, and new applicants are always welcome. The best way to stay informed about the CoC is to sign up for KHC eGrams, specifically the “Homeless and Support Services” eGram mailing list.