“We housed Whiskey!” exclaimed Evie Craig, CEO and president of reStart, Inc., at a recent gathering of the Homelessness Task Force of Greater Kansas City (HTF). “Whiskey,” who has been on the streets for many years, fits the federal definition of chronically homeless. He recently added “frostbitten toes” to his long list of health concerns, and that list made him the most vulnerable person currently in the homeless and housing system, according to a newly implemented common intake and assessment process.
The community’s ability to house Whiskey and others like him has been improved with the adoption of this triage process and with an agreement among area agencies to use a Housing First approach for our most vulnerable homeless persons and families. The process helps staff make decisions based on need, rather than luck or expedience. Service organizations across the metro now use this triage tool to determine who to house next.
The system also helps agencies function more efficiently. Agencies in our region offer a wide range of supportive services, but the lack of coordination among them can cause problems for providers and consumers. These problems include:
- Families with housing crises approach multiple agencies before finding the one most appropriate for their needs.
- Agencies often focus resources on a small subset of individuals whose needs are primarily economic, while those with more significant challenges go unserved.
- Agencies maintain separate or duplicate intake forms or requirements, slowing down assistance and requiring additional data entry for each agency interaction.
- Agencies spend extra staff time and money on intake and assessment instead of on more housing-focused tasks such as case management and housing location.
Evidence-based practices show a coordinated system ends homelessness for many, and reduces the consequences of homelessness for others. In the Kansas City region, the HTF is working with numerous agencies to implement a unified system. The system will consist of a common entry point, a diversion protocol, a common assessment tool, housing units for differing levels of need, and a management information system to connect housing and other service providers. More about the structure of the system can be found on the HTF webpage, www.marc.org/community/htf.
Even the most coordinated system can’t help the homeless if houses aren’t available for them. The HTF is working to expand the supply of housing for homeless veterans, individuals and families. To do this, HTF partners need landlords who are willing to house veterans and others who have struggled to stay housed. Landlords and service providers are invited to attend the next HTF Landlord Summit, which will focus on veteran services and will be held Friday, March 13 at reStart, 918 E. 9th Street, Kansas City, Mo. Please RSVP to Jason Bohn, system change coordinator, at email@example.com.
In addition to the adoption of the common assessment tool, a pilot project to serve veterans will begin to test a common entry point and diversion protocol. Since December 2014, organizations have housed 42 veterans by using this process and dedicating housing units specifically for the most vulnerable clients. Recently, the federal government increased resources to end veteran homelessness, and three agencies in Kansas City received Supportive Services for Veteran Families funds: Catholic Charities, reStart and the Salvation Army. These agencies will begin the pilot program of the unified system starting April 1.
The next full Homelessness Task Force meeting is 9 a.m., Friday, April 24, at the MARC Conference Center at 600 Broadway, Suite 200, Kansas City, Mo. The task force is supported by the Mid-America Regional Council with assistance from a number of area foundations, including the Health Forward Foundation.