On Wednesday, February 8, HUD and the US Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) brought together housing authorities (HAs) and Continuums of Care (COCs) from the western half of the country for a convening in Los Angeles, entitled “OPENING DOORS: Expanding PHA Opportunities to House Homeless Persons through Coordination of HUD and Other Programs.” The program aimed to highlight communities that have been successful in working across HUD programs and spark conversations that would help create more opportunities to provide housing and services targeted to homeless persons. (Another convening for the eastern half of the country will occur in April.)
The convening opened with a welcome from USICH Executive Director Barbara Poppe, who framed the afternoon as an attempt to help HAs and COCs work together better locally, with more support from their federal government partners. She acknowledged that scarce resources present a real challenge these days, which require that all parties work harder and smarter to use what they have most efficiently and effectively. She spoke of the Federal Plan to End Homelessness, Opening Doors, and the importance of leveraging mainstream resources, such as the housing assistance that HAs provide and the housing market expertise that HAs can bring to the table of COC planning efforts.
HUD Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing, Sandra Henriquez, spoke largely of her experiences at the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) during her introductory remarks. She detailed a number of policy changes that BHA undertook in order to make their processes more accessible to homeless individuals living on the streets and the 500 vouchers that they set aside for households in shelters, for which the state funded supportive services. Recognizing the similar efforts represented by the individuals in the room, Assistant Secretary Henriquez noted that in recent years, HAs and their partners have shown that those previously thought to be beyond hope can and will be good tenants, with the proper supports. She expressed her conviction that we cannot allow ourselves to leave others behind. HUD Acting Deputy Secretary Estelle Richman then spoke from her experience with the services side of the equation, which taught her that what works is getting people in the same room, talking across silos. This convening, she stated, was a way to start the dialogue on how to reduce silos, adapt funding streams, and create the most effective means to fulfilling the Administration’s commitment to ending homelessness.
A brief panel followed, providing case studies from Salt Lake County and Fresno. Kerry Bate, Executive Director of the Housing Authority of the County of Salt Lake, spoke about how the housing authority is now housing people who never would have made it through their doors ten years ago, because of a strategic decision to become a part of ending homelessness, a player of first resort. This has largely entailed joint staff meetings with the largest shelter in the state of Utah and hiring part-time case managers to be stationed at the housing authority, who can intervene when residents are at risk of losing their subsidy. The HA has added hundreds of units to its inventory, specifically targeted for formerly homeless tenants. Michelle Flynn, of the Road Home, the Salt lake City shelter reiterated the collaborative relationship between her agency and the housing authority, which allows shelter residents to get housed as quickly as possible. Pam Kallsen, of the Marjaree Mason Center in Fresno, also spoke of the importance of collaboration and cross-agency communication, as the HA helps keep case managers aware of resources and of intake processes, which can then be streamlined. Angie Nguyen, of the Fresno Housing Authority, highlighted the agency’s participation in the 100,000 Homes campaign, which allowed them to create a registry of the most vulnerable homeless individuals in the area, which they now use to feed waiting lists for supportive housing. She spoke of FHA’s set-aside of vouchers for agencies within the Continuum of Care, particularly for those exiting transitional housing, for whom six months of aftercare is already required. She identified this as a win-win for the housing authority, who can provide a voucher knowing that the individual has at least six months of services to help establish housing stability.
The convening participants broke into area-based groups to
discuss their priorities for work in this area and then into subject-matter
groups, focusing on:
· PHA administrative policies related to homeless/vulnerable households
· Preferences and set-asides
· Project-based vouchers and supportive housing
· Establishing community relationships
· Building provider partnerships
· Strategies for using the public housing program
· Serving families with children
· Serving the chronically homeless
Participants shared their experiences with the challenges that each subject presented and their ideas about solutions. One repeated theme expressed was how much Moving to Work authority would help with overcoming barriers to successfully serving this community need. USICH Deputy Director Jennifer Ho, who facilitated the report-back from the groups, stated that continuing the conversation and establishing local goals will play a key role in success, as when a community decides that it wants to do something, it will find a way to get it done.
The convening ended with HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs (Community Planning & Development) Mark Johnston noting the historic nature of the convening, as the first time that HUD has tried to engage with HAs on homeless issues. He stated that this was of necessity, as the targeted homeless assistance resources are tapped out and attention must be paid to using mainstream housing assistance. He recognized that HUD has work to do in eliminating barriers, but expressed hope that a ten-percent turnover rate in these programs provides the potential to serve lots of homeless families.
HUD and USICH scheduled the convening to coincide with the
National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness, for which a number
of CLPHA member PHAs stayed in Los Angeles. The primary audience for the conference was
homeless services providers, but Assistant Secretary Henriquez spoke to them at
a plenary session about the importance of engaging with their local HAs. She
said that sometimes housing authorities are scared to take risks, but with some
effort, they can find a way to get to yes. Assistance with preserving tenancy
when something goes awry is an acute need that service providers can address. Again,
she stated that the significant progress made in reducing chronic homelessness
proves that anyone can be a good tenant—and it is our job to house everyone.
She pointed to the success of the HUD-VASH program, but also noted that we will
not end homelessness through VASH alone, that we need greater collaboration
across the board and that HUD is committed to look at any regulations that
present a barrier to efforts that would help to end homelessness.
For materials from the Alliance conference, click here.
For a research brief from HHS on promising practices on linking human services and housing, including promising practices by PHAs, click here.
For more information about the convening or conference, contact CLPHA Research & Policy Analyst Leah Staub.