Our first-world society is really the irresponsible party. We let men and women who fight in our wars end up on the streets. We let kids who endure years and years of foster care with loveless families live in alleys or abandoned buildings. So is the case with women encountering domestic violence and seniors struggling with mental health issues.

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This is the third in a series of blog posts from the Alliance’s Capacity Building Center to help prepare your community for this year’s NOFA. The first post discussed highlights of the CoC program Registration, and the second provided resources for tiering and ranking projects. 

In this year’s NOFA Registration Notice, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is strongly encouraging Continuums of Care (CoCs) to reallocate funding to interventions that more effectively reduce homelessness.

In 2015 you can reallocate funds from existing eligible renewal projects to create new rapid re-housing projects for homeless individuals and families, including unaccompanied youth, who are coming directly from the streets, emergency shelters or who are fleeing domestic violence. If your CoC decided to reallocate funds to fund rapid re-housing through the NOFA process or if you work for a foundation or a local government that wants to fund rapid re-housing, you will probably need to write a Request for Proposals (RFP) and figure out a way to evaluate applications.

Here are five tips for writing a great rapid re-housing RFP:

1. Think about what your community needs. Take a look at the gaps in your homelessness system, and determine where you can have the most impact. For example, if single adults make up the majority of your homeless population, but the vast majority of your resources are for homeless families, you should target this money towards rapid re-housing for single adults. 

2. Create an RFP and application that aligns with the Core Components. The Core Components of Rapid Re-Housing were developed in collaboration with, and endorsed by, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and HUD. A program must have all three core components to be considered a rapid re-housing program, but that doesn’t mean that one organization has to provide all three. For example, your Public Housing Authority might administer the financial assistance while a nonprofit service provider provides the housing identification and case management services. However your program is  structured, you must ensure that all three core components are in place.

3. Align with best practices. The Core Components create a minimum standard for an effective rapid re-housing program, but you can further improve your program take by implementing some of the best practices included in this paper (starting on page 4). Ask how applicants will market to landlord and retain them; how they will provide the least amount of financial assistance necessary  to serve the most people; and how their case management will be strengths-based, client-driven, and voluntary.

4. Ask what will be different. If your applicants have never provided rapid re-housing before, they should describe how this will be different from what they are already doing, especially if they have been operating a transitional housing program or a shelter.

Ask for sample job descriptions, eligibility criteria, and policies and procedures that will be used to operate the program. Too often, rapid re-housing case manager job descriptions look exactly like traditional shelter or transitional housing job descriptions. Rapid re-housing case management should look really different: it takes place in a client’s home; it is voluntary, primarily focused on obtaining and sustaining housing and, because it is short-term, connects clients to other community resources that will help them keep their housing.

The program staff should also include a housing specialist or locator. Rapid re-housing does not work without having a pool of readily available landlords, so having a person whose entire job it is to recruit and retain landlords is really important. Here is an example Housing Specialist job description. Also, ask applicants how they structure their financial assistance. Financial assistance should be individualized, flexible, and use a progressive engagement model of assistance.

5. Ask for outcomes. If your applicant is new to rapid re-housing, but they have operated other kinds of programs, you should evaluate them based on past performance. Some key ones you should look for:

  • Do they incorporate a Housing First approach?
  • How many people are exiting to permanent housing?
  • Do they have past monitoring findings and have they been resolved?
  • Does their program align with CoC priorities?

If they have operated a rapid re-housing program in the past, you should evaluate them based on recent outcomes including:

  • How long does it take to rapidly re-house someone in their program from program entry to housing?
  • How long do people stay before exiting the program to permanent housing?
  • At what rate to people become homeless again after exiting to permanent housing?

Stay tuned to the Alliance blog once the NOFA is released for more resources and tips. If you have any questions or ideas you want to share, comment below or email me at ablasco@naeh.org.

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Today’s blog post was contributed by Nicolas Seip, program and communications associate with True Colors Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending homelessness among among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth.

America places a lot of value on a story. A good story can top the New York Times Best Seller List or rake in millions at the box office. A good story can change the world.

At the True Colors Fund, we hear a lot of stories –  from young people who have experienced homelessness, from the service providers who work with them, and from supporters across the country who want to make a difference. To the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) community, an important form of storytelling is “coming out.” Living authentically in one’s affirmed sexual orientation or gender identity often means sharing that story time and time again. And it isn’t always easy.

Coming out as LGBTQ shouldn’t be a shameful thing. But, to many, it is. Experiencing homelessness shouldn’t be a shameful thing. But, to many, it is.

Up to 40 percent of youth experiencing homeless in the United States are LGBTQ, while just 7 percent of the general youth population is LGBTQ. The discrepancy is impossible to ignore. According to service providers, the majority of LGBTQ youth experience homelessness due to identity based family rejection. The True Colors Fund believes that no young person should be homeless, let alone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We work everyday to make that belief a reality.

To create such a world, we need to hear from the experts – the youth themselves. Doing so is mutually beneficial. True Colors Fund 2015 True Fellow Rivianna Hyatt put it like this, “The older I get, the more I recognize that there is no shame in growing up the way I did. In fact, it is essential to the person I have become.”

Shame breeds silence, but sharing can create pride. “It is an everyday struggle to be honest with myself about that,” Rivianna continued. “But I’m realizing that knowing myself is absolutely necessary in order to get to know the rest of the world.” Celebrating who you are and recognizing where you come from are essential to, well, being happy.

But, like Rivianna says, it’s a struggle. I think there can be a lot of pressure on young people to tell their story of homelessness. I know it isn’t easy to talk about. So, instead, I say, “You’re in complete control.” So share what you want. If you want to share your story, I’ll listen with all ears. But what I really want to hear are your ideas.

And hear their ideas, we have. Rivianna and her six fellow Fellows are working across the country on projects to promote LGBTQ inclusion in their communities. And through the LGBTQ Youth Homelessness Prevention Initiative, we’re cultivating successful practices from people working on the ground.

Together with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, we’re working to develop and evaluate strategies to prevent LGBTQ youth from becoming homeless and intervene as early as possible once they do become homeless. The initiative is being conducted over the next two years in Harris County, Tex. and Hamilton County, Ohio, and, once completed, the resources and tools developed can be replicated and implemented in communities across the country.

June is LGBTQ Pride Month, a time during which communities join to celebrate the freedom and joy that come with living authentically. To my fellow allies, I encourage you not only to celebrate your LGBTQ loved ones, but hear out their hopes, dreams, and ideas for the future. To LGBTQ folks, I urge you to make us listen. Shame breeds silence, but sharing creates pride. Let’s celebrate Pride Month sharing.

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One of the most heart-breaking experiences I had as a case manager was with a lesbian client who was invited, with her biological children, to stay at the family shelter where I worked. But because the faith-based shelter’s rules excluded sa…

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This is the second in a series of blog posts from the Alliance’s Capacity Building Center to help prepare your community for this year’s NOFA. Read the first post here.

Once again, NOFA season is just around the corner!

One of the more anxiety-producing aspects of recent NOFAs is the requirement that Continuums of Care (CoCs) rank projects in the CoC Priority Listing section of the application. As a refresher, in recent years, CoCs have had to prioritize new and renewal projects by dividing them into two tiers, which may jeopardize funding for lower-ranked projects. Though we don’t yet know exactly what Tier 1 and 2 will look like until this year’s NOFA comes out, we know that this “CoC Priority Listing” will be a requirement of the 2015 application and that reallocation is available. 

As you apprehensively await HUD’s 2015 CoC NOFA, here are some steps you can take to prepare your CoC for the important process of ranking projects based on their performance.  

Why is this so important?

Ranking projects based on performance encourages CoCs to right-size their systems so that precious community resources are used in the most strategic way possible. Reviewing project performance achieves this by allocating funds to projects that effectively reduce homelessness and create more permanent housing capacity.

One of HUD’s top policy priorities is strategic resource allocation, which includes “the comprehensive review of projects” and reallocation of funds to projects that reduce homelessness.  This is why it’s critical that your CoC develop an objective and performance-based ranking process now. If your CoC hasn’t established or begun this process, you should get started right away!

Ranking projects can be a difficult and politically fraught process, but by beginning the process and communicating scoring expectations to stakeholders as early as possible, it can be far less painful and time-consuming come application time. More importantly, it will make your CoC much more successful in ending homelessness.

CoCs should also determine their reallocation priorities well before the NOFA application opens and consider developing a CoC spending plan. (In our next blog post, I will discuss reallocation and the best ways to prepare new applications for rapid re-housing projects.)

How should your CoC develop an objective and performance-based ranking process?

Task the development of a fair and transparent review and rank process to a group that understands the CoC’s overall strategic priorities and is primarily made up of members that do not receive CoC funding to ensure that the process is unbiased, such as:

  • The CoC Governance Board;
  • A CoC committee; or
  • A neutral entity that is familiar with the evaluation and monitoring of homeless services.

When CoCs don’t have an objective ranking process, stakeholders in existing projects can influence which projects get funded, and there is little opportunity to shift resources to more effective projects.

  • Develop scoring criteria, related tools, and a local application that aligns with the CoC’s strategic spending priorities and the goals in Opening Doors.
  • Solicit input from stakeholders from the beginning; once the scoring criteria and application process is finalized, CoCs should inform CoC-funded projects and potential new applicants so they can start collecting the data they need for the application.
  • Establish a panel of non-conflicted and knowledgeable stakeholders that will review, score, and rank projects.
  • Prepare to engage in an appeals process,  if needed.

Here are some other communities’ processes, applications, and scoring criteria that you can adapt to your CoC:

Which scoring criteria do we use?

In the past, many CoCs have renewed projects without reviewing their performance in a meaningful way or given money to new projects without analyzing if they are responding to the CoC’s needs.  Now, because funding is not always guaranteed for all projects, CoCs should be prioritizing projects that help them reduce homelessness by quickly and cost-effectively permanently housing people.

Understandably, this can be challenging for a CoC, which may be concerned about protecting existing projects. When making cuts, a CoC should assess what the impact will be and then determine whether there are other ways to fund these existing projects with other community dollars.

Here are some scoring criteria you might consider using to evaluate projects:

Does the project prioritize the most vulnerable populations?

  • To achieve better outcomes in the future, CoCs will have to focus on helping homeless households who are the most likely to remain homeless if they don’t receive assistance, particularly those who lack incomes and who have experienced longer or more frequent episodes of homelessness.

How well is the project performing in achieving outcomes?

  • Rate of exits to permanent housing: For Permanent Housing and Transitional Housing, projects should at least meet the HUD goal of 80 percent housed at exit
  • Increasing/maintaining income or connecting clients to educational opportunities
  • Connecting clients to mainstream benefits
  • Housing stability
  • Reducing average length of stay/homelessness

Has the project improved its services in the past year?

  • Inclusion of consumer feedback
  • Resolution past monitoring findings

Does the project have strong HMIS participation and data quality?

Does the project have a budget that makes sense?

  • Cost-effectiveness: Appropriate based on difficulty of population served, capacity, and number of permanent housing exits

Does the project fully participate in the CoC’s Coordinated Entry System?

Does the project coordinate effectively?

  • Participation in CoC meetings and workgroups
  • Coordination with other entities in the community

Does the project contribute towards goals and activities in the CoC’s strategic plan or 10 year plan?

If it is a new project, is it proposing a project that aligns with the CoC’s needs, fills a gap in services, or shows good past performance in other projects?

What Not to Do

Don’t apply across-the-board cuts to all your projects. Although this is sometimes easiest to do, there are several problems with this method.  

In the past, HUD has expressed great concern over communities that applied an even percentage cut to all programs. Consequently, CoCs who do go with this option are likely to lose points for not having an objective ranking and selection process. The Alliance also strongly discourages CoCs from doing this because it’s not a strategic or performance-based way to prioritize funds, and CoCs will miss out on the opportunity to achieve an improvement to the CoC’s system-wide performance that will help in future applications.

Don’t implement a secretive or unclear evaluation or selection process. Involve your CoC members and stakeholders and train recipients on what they should expect when it comes to the evaluation of the performance of projects.

Don’t leave it to your CoC-funded projects to decide the scoring criteria. They can be involved in providing input, but shouldn’t be making decisions on how their own projects will be scored. (I mentioned this earlier in the blog post, but it bears repeating.)

Stay tuned to the Alliance blog for future info on preparing your CoC for the upcoming NOFA. If you have any questions or ideas you want to share, comment below or email me at cnagendra@naeh.org

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It is truly wonderful that several cities have ended veteran homelessness. However, homelessness has increased in many major jurisdictions – and homelessness encampments continue to appear across our landscape.

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