Aug 26, 2011
Jake Maguire
ByJake Maguire

All Hands on Deck

If you saw our 100,000 Homes Campaign on the CBS Evening News last week, you heard a lot about volunteers. And rightly so— in Campaign communities, volunteers wake up at 3am multiple mornings in a row to help their neighbors experiencing homelessness. They deserve as much recognition as we can give them! But the truth is, volunteers aren’t the only people involved in the housing process, and the full cast of characters paints a good picture of the Community Solutions model.

Traditionally, the not-for-profit sector has shouldered much of the burden of doing good on its own, but in recent years, that’s changing. Pressing social problems rarely limit themselves to a single sector or group, and would-be problem solvers can't afford to do so either. Today, the most comprehensive solutions to social problems require an all-hands effort across multiple sectors— a coming together of business, government, volunteers, not-for-profits, and faith communities. A team drawn from every area of society can marshal a broader array of skills, resources and ideas than even the best, most committed organization going it alone. That translates to getting more done for more people faster.

Helping someone move from the street into permanent housing is no exception, since success depends on time, money and expertise from a variety of different sources. For this reason, we urge communities to begin their housing work by building strong local teams that span multiple sectors and align as many resource pools as possible.

Let's consider the process.

Once a team is in place, communities must identify and engage individuals on the streets by soliciting their information and cooperation. As the CBS piece points out, volunteers can work side by side with community-funded outreach workers to assist in this effort. But even before this task is complete, public and non-profit sector players must work together to line up appropriate funding streams. Since permanent supportive housing is such a smart investment for taxpayers, most people move from homelessness to housing using federal subsidies. Accessing these takes intentional collaboration between a homeless individual, a not-for-profit case manager and any number of government employees to navigate a dizzying series of steps.

Once a subsidy or other funding stream is in place, private and not-for-profit sector landlords step in to provide apartment options. Each of these units must be inspected and approved by the local public housing authority before a formal lease can be signed. Often, local businesses, volunteers and faith communities come together to provide a security deposit and basic furnishings.  Many times, the most satisfying moment in the process comes when a person experiencing homelessness arrives at their apartment for the first time to find all of the various people involved in assisting them gathered to celebrate their new home.

This collaborative, multi-sector framework is more reflective of emerging collective impact models than the traditional, one-stop-shop approach. It is also proving vastly more effective. By adopting the broad local team model, many 100,000 Homes Campaign communities have doubled or even tripled the rate at which they move people off the streets and into permanent apartments. At recent housing placement improvement events in Los Angeles and New York, leaders from the public, private and not-for-profit sectors came together to reduce the length of time it takes to move a homeless veteran into housing by as much as 80 percent.

Throughout the housing process, the goal of each community remains to align resources across all sectors to engage and house the most vulnerable individuals on its streets. We can say for certain that when one sector tries to do this alone, the process becomes lengthy and cumbersome. People spend far more time homeless than is necessary, and many die on the streets. But when multiple sectors collaborate through a team-based approach, ending homelessness becomes possible.