Bringing a Relentless Focus to Strengthening Our Systems

At USICH, we seek to bring a relentless focus to how we can best support communities to strengthen their systems and improve their practices to achieve the best outcomes for people experiencing homelessness. It is not hard to find evidence of significant progress in these areas in almost every community, and in some places, the progress is remarkable. For example, earlier this month, San Antonio announced that it had effectively ended Veteran homelessness. Alongside Houston and Philadelphia, that means that the partners in three of the top 10 most populous cities in the country have achieved this goal.

But it is also clear that creating progress within our systems is not easy, is never easy and that sometimes the shifts and changes are dramatic and very difficult. And they can sometimes be painful. I am well aware that there are some Continuums of Care, individual agencies and programs, staff and, most importantly, people being served, who are being directly impacted by the outcomes of the CoC Program Tier 2 funding announcements. A lot of information has already been released regarding the results of the CoC competition. For those of you still wrestling with the outcomes, I think that you will find Norm Suchar’s recent SNAPS In Focus article worth at least a few close reads. The National Alliance to End Homelessness has also been providing important guidance and information to help communities understand and respond to the results.

I don’t want to repeat that information here, but I would echo that the changes in this year’s competition reflect policy and strategic priorities that are the backbone of Opening Doors and that have been clearly and emphatically emphasized for the last several years. The outcomes of the competition mean that, nationally, more people will have access to the housing options they need to end their homelessness — including more housing opportunities for youth, more rapid re-housing interventions for families, and more permanent supportive housing for people who have experienced chronic homelessness. But I know that, within that progress, there are communities, programs, and people experiencing painful funding reductions. 

I also know that the mission of ending homelessness calls upon all of us to make extremely hard choices and to never lose a relentless focus on addressing the most challenging issues, including:

  • How can we best transform a set of programs into effective systems for responding to, and ending, the crisis of homelessness in every community?
  • How do we ensure that we have the right mix of opportunities to meet the specialized needs of all people experiencing homelessness in our communities?
  • What are the array of opportunities within such systems that will provide the best housing outcomes for the greatest number of people?
  • How do we strengthen the performance of individual programs, and what are we obliged to do when programs are not able to perform successfully?
  • How can we minimize the impact on people experiencing homelessness when changes need to be made and programs can no longer be supported?
  • How can we best use data, research, and evidence to inform and drive these decisions within every community?
  • What are the most effective roles that other systems and funding sources can play, in partnership with CoC resources, to provide the full range of opportunities that our communities seek to provide?

I know that getting to answers to these questions is not easy and that the specifics of the answers will vary from community to community. But I also know that we will fail in our shared mission if we fail to engage in the difficult conversations, choices, and decisions that these questions require of us all. USICH and other federal agencies have already provided many tools, guides, and resources to help communities engage in these decisions, and will continue to do so. For example, in the months ahead, USICH will be providing more guidance regarding how to integrate mainstream resources into local efforts and systems for ending homelessness.

In the meantime, as communities prepare for the FY16 Continuum of Care competition, I encourage you to take a look at the following tools and resources to support your relentless focus on both sharpening your systems and on being as competitive for the CoC funds as you can be:

Creating Effective Systems to End Homelessness: A Guide to Reallocating Funds in the CoC Program will help you think through reallocation strategies for the annual CoC Competition.

Services in the CoC Program: A Guide to Assessing Value and Finding Funding Alternatives will help you assess whether or not services are contributing to efforts to end homelessness and see which services have funding alternatives.

The Housing First Checklist: A Tool for Assessing Housing First in Practice will help you assess whether a particular program in your community is employing a Housing First approach.

Role of Long-Term, Congregate Transitional Housing in Ending Homelessness will help you assess the role of long-term, congregate transitional housing within your broader program portfolio. 

HUD's Coordinated Entry Policy Brief will help you develop coordinated entry processes locally that are implemented through a Housing First approach.

Federal Resources That Can Fund Rapid Re-Housing will help you determine which Federal funding sources might help fund rapid re-housing services.

Supportive Housing Opportunities Planner (SHOP) Tool will help you sharpen strategies needed to end chronic homelessness.

Implementing Housing First in Permanent Supportive Housing will help you implement permanent supportive housing using a Housing First approach.

Preventing and Ending Youth Homelessness: A Coordinated Community Response provides you with a preliminary vision for what a coordinated response to ending youth homelessness looks like.

You’ll find these and many other helpful tools at Your commitment to this work is a never-ending source of inspiration to me and to all of us at USICH.