One of the few positive trends in affordable housing over the last five years is the reduction in chronic homelessness nationwide. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) definition of chronic homelessness is individuals that have been homeless for more than one year or that have had four or more episodes of homelessness in the past three years. In addition, HUD recently reported a decrease in homelessness among veterans since 2010.
How did this happen? Starting about 10 years ago, a consensus began building among the White House, Congress, and state and local governments, that ending chronic homelessness should be prioritized. As more programs began to demonstrate success in reversing the trend of growing chronic homelessness, more decision-makers got on-board (i.e. the Housing First model). Now there is general agreement among a majority of lawmakers, administrators and activists that homelessness is not good for the economy, it wastes public resources, and that there are proven models to reduce it.
This does not mean that general homelessness has been reduced in every community, and many communities are seeing more of it now than ever before. While federal funding for fighting homelessness has been steady over the last five years, it has not increased adequately to address the impacts of the recession and growing inequity on those living near the edge of homelessness. However, recent progress does show what can happen when all levels of government, local nonprofits and citizens get on the same page to support strategies that work.
So you may ask yourself whether your community is positioned to take advantage of the recent federal interest in ending homelessness. To do so, one must understand where the federal priorities are currently and anticipate where they will be over the next few years.
The principal federal funding program to address homelessness is HUD's Continuum of Care Program. In 2009, the HEARTH Act was passed to consolidate the former McKinney-Vento programs and prioritize funding to communities that coordinate resources for maximum efficiency and efficacy. The organizations that coordinate services and apply for funds are called Continuums of Care (CoCs). Their memberships consist of all entities that collaborate within a local geography (usually a County) to combat homelessness: government agencies, nonprofits, civic groups, etc.
The CoC Interim Rule (24 CFR Part 578; Vol. 77, No. 147) laid out HEARTH Act requirements for CoCs. These requirements include: establishment of a board or governing body, Lead Agency, and a Collaborative Applicant that submits the application to HUD on behalf of the COC; conducting a homelesess census every two years; and implementation of a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). The HMIS provides a method to consistently measure the characteristics of the homeless population, available services, and progress toward goals.
The following are areas where CoCs should prepare to meet potential future HUD regulations and guidelines.
1. Become familiar with Proposed HMIS Rule (24 CFR Parts 91, 576, 580 and 583; Vol. 76; No. 237). It includes specific guidance on operating HMIS, including administration and development of data quality, security and privacy plans. Develop policies and procedures that adhere to the Proposed HMIS Rule, and the 2014 HMIS Data and Technical Standards.
2. Establish a Governance Charter for the CoC that lays out the roles and responsibilities of the governing body (or board), committees, the Lead Agency, the Collaborative Applicant and the HMIS Lead Agency.
3. Plan for a Coordinated Assessment System. This is a method of organizing the intake and assessment of homeless individuals across the CoC to maximize efficiency of services. The idea is to eliminate duplicative intake processes and better serve individuals through coordination.
Communities that undertake these steps will enhance their competitiveness to receive federal funds in the coming years. Feel free to let me know if you have specific questions about undertaking these steps.