Improving ICH Communication with the Homeless and Helping the Able-Bodied Exit Homelessness

A quick history of the ICH
DC Government's Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) -- a group of dozens of government agency heads, homeless service providers and advocates -- was formed as a result of DC's Homeless Services Reform Act (HSRA) of 2005 which govern's the city's homeless services. In the fall of 2006 the ICH held four inaugural hearings at which an estimated total of 300 homeless people weighed in on what should be done to address homelessness. Many of their comments were recorded in THIS DOCUMENT.

In September 2013 I was one of several people who gave input concerning what the job description of the ICH's first ever director should be. In all honesty, I was hoping for a benevolent dictator who would put some fire under the tails of homeless service providers and move them quickly toward sensible solutions. With the ICH having held its first meeting in June 2006 when DC counted 6,157 homeless people, going down to 5,757 the following year and swinging through a glitch pattern to 6,859 homeless people in 2013, I wanted someone who would force sensible solutions that would keep the numbers going down.

Kristy Greenwalt became the ICH's first director on April 28th, 2014, three months after we counted 7,748 homeless people -- a number that rose to 8,350 in 2016. (We had 8,253 homeless people in 2004 when the city made a 10-year plan to end homelessness -- a plan that should have ended homelessness before current DC Mayor Muriel Bowser took office in 2015.)

The 45-page document which contains the input of hundreds of homeless people was quickly put on the shelf, though the ICH held several open mic sessions during its first couple of years wherein the homeless were able to raise any issues that they chose to raise. These open mics morphed into round table discussions before each quarterly meeting and homeless attendees could still raise issue topics as they so chose. Eventually these gatherings morphed further into the guided discussions that now precede each quarterly meeting wherein the government and non-profit organizers set the topic. Through the ICH's 11-year history:

1 -- The right of homeless people to shape the topic of discussion at pre-meeting round table discussions has decreased.

2 -- Involvement by the homeless has decreased.

3 -- The number of homeless people has swung through a glitch pattern from 6,157 in 2006 to 5,757 in 2007 (its lowest since we began counting the homeless in 2001) and to 7,473 in 2017.

Current Communication Issues
At numerous meetings over the past three years, the question has been raised as to how the ICH can improve its communication with the homeless. A number of one-off events (and at least one two-off event where they returned to the same shelter) have been scheduled at shelters so that the ICH could interact with homeless clients. It's fair to say that more emphasis was put on advertising services and presenting the ICH in a positive light than was placed on finding out how clients use the system and what the homeless clients feel they need in order to exit homelessness.
Maybe the ICH should make it a point to just ask the homeless what is and isn't working for them and open themselves up to positive criticism, as opposed to advertising services that people likely know about but aren't using for various reasons.
Maybe, instead of ICH professionals sitting in government offices asking each other how they might improve communication with the homeless, they should take that question to the homeless community. It just makes absolute and perfect sense.

In August of 2014 the ICH put forth THIS DRAFT DOCUMENT in which it was suggested that as many as 14 advocates from within the homeless community be financially supported by a total of $12,200 for a year -- and hopefully yearly through September 2020. These advocates would be chosen from different shelters and would help to foster better communication between this body of homeless service providers which is regularly convened by government and the homeless themselves. The draft never became a final document and the funding was never procured.

The communication issues continue -- with one notable improvement: On August 8th, 2017 I began to sense a positive attitude toward all of the homeless and formerly homeless attendees of an ICH committee meeting by the housed people. That day I promised to assist with the ICH's long-standing communication problems which the group has communicated about in many past meetings. I'd made that offer in the past as well. Maybe they'll take me up on my offer this time.

Recognizing that some of the homeless men that I'm working with to find solutions to homelessness have e-mails while others have cell phones, I'm sending this meeting update as a blog post link. This is one innovation for helping people navigate their communication challenges.

Challenges that were discussed on August 8th, 2017 and at countless meetings over the years include the following:

1 -- The homeless need to have a reliable way of getting information about when a hypothermia alert is called (when it's 32 degrees or lower without precipitation or 40 and lower with precipitation). Shelters are kept open at such times. Those with internet access can generally find out in a timely manner. Not all of the homeless have internet access.

The winter plan will be discussed at a public meeting later this month, in greater depth than it was on August 8th. I believe THIS MEETING in which the government seeks public comment has been postponed from the 14th to the 21st, despite the current link saying that it's on the 14th. The updated meeting information should be posted HERE soon.

2 -- The homeless often receive inadequate information about other available services -- especially the ones that would get them out of homelessness. (There doesn't seem to be an updated and comprehensive website where a homeless person can learn about the full range of services.)

3 -- What the homeless DO hear about opportunities for housing have to do mainly or solely with housing for the disabled -- which can lead to some gaming of the system. A meeting attendee from the non-profit community suggested that this gaming of the system can be presented in a positive light. As adverse as I am to being overly optimistic or complimentary, I'l give it a go by saying that it means that the disabled are being housed (to the neglect and detriment of the able-bodied).

BTW, the question was raised again at this meeting as to why it is that, with a 10.5% decrease in homeless people from 2016 to 2017, there was only a 2% decrease in "chronic" homeless people -- those with many or extended bouts of homelessness who also have mental and/or physical disabilities.

4 -- Even if all available services were advertised in one place, it might create a problem. People would need to know where to start. Those services would need to be neatly arranged in a decision chart that directs people to what they should do first, lest they make blank trips to service providers and are told that they should have gone elsewhere first.

5 -- Shelter staff, including case management, often don't know about all of the homeless services.

Solutions
A solution that was presented was for the ICH to revisit the draft document which is hyperlinked above and lays out a possible budget for paying stipends to 14 homeless advocates.

Another solution that was presented was for the ICH to make rounds to the shelters beginning in mid-October so as to teach people about winter services -- an idea that can be used for other homeless services as well.

Case management in different programs should be cross-trained so that they understand how different programs work or case management should be centralized altogether so that they work for a government agency such as DHS and each client has one case manager for everything, as opposed to one for food stamps, one for medical services, one for employment etc. (The ICH had this conversation as far back as 2012.)

Some good news that was raised is that Friendship Placewill receive funding from DC Government in October with which to expand its services beyond the upper northwest portion of DC to other areas with larger concentrations of homeless people. Their services include Rapid Re-Housing which generally assists able-bodied people who will be self-sufficient within 18 months and the Aim Hire job placement program.

BRIEF QUESTIONNAIRE for DC homeless service providers
(especially those who assist able-bodied people)

Additionally.....

I'm currently working as a consultant to help improve the ability of a certain service provider to grow their homeless people beyond homelessness. I'm keenly aware of the fact that this provider has very limited ability to grow anyone beyond homelessness until the broader system in which they operate is fixed. I am therefore interacting with other service providers to address these systemic flaws.

Below is an e-mail that I originally sent to DOES (Dept. Of Employment Services) on 5/30/17 and again on 8/8/17. It's questions and concerns apply to other agencies as well. I've therefore modified the wording a bit. It suggests some more system improvements:

Connecting the Dots to Housing Able-Bodied Homeless:

1 -- If a homeless person without dependents has regular access to less than $50 per week and wants to get to a place where they are making at least $20/hour, what are all of the steps that [your agency] would take to actually HELP them (including ASSISTING them in getting to a different agency that [your agency] refers them to) so that they can:

A -- obtain transit assistance from the point of the job search all the way to their first paycheck???

B -- obtain food to eat during their lunch break (especially given the fact that Mick Mulvaney has encouraged Trump to eliminate food stamps and HUD vouchers)???

C -- obtain interview and work clothes that are consistent with the type of job they seek???

D -- obtain proper documentation such as ID or even a driver's license???

E -- obtain job training, if necessary, and have all of the above items that they would need during training???

F -- obtain a job that pays at least $800/week if the first job that [your agency] helps them obtain pays considerably less???

NOTE: I am aware that at least some of the info is accessible on-line; but, figured you might be able to send it all in less time than it would take me to find it myself. During the meetings I attended last year about homeless employment, I floated the idea of an electronic and hard-copy decision chart with icons/paragraphs that correspond with the lettered items above (and possibly some other areas) and which enables a homeless job seeker to figure out the best order in which to address those matters and whether they should start at point A, B or C etc, given their personal situation. In my role as a consultant on how to get A-bods (ABAWD's) out of homelessness, I'm trying to construct the hard-copy version. Your help would be greatly appreciated.

2 -- Will [your agency] actually offer transit assistance if a homeless person goes to [your agency] first and is told that they must visit another agency first??? (I know that the former Franklin Street Center at least used to have caseworkers; but, I don't recall them offering transit assistance when referring someone to a different agency.)

3 -- Do you know of a one-stop shop (besides Community Connections, which primarily serves the mentally ill) that will help an ABAWD to plan ALL of the lettered items out during the initial phase of casework??? (AMAWD's who like to think want to know within the first three casework visits how the ENTIRE process will work -- from having $50/week all the way to the first $800/week check.)

4 -- If the answer to question 3 is "No", will you/[your agency] create a place/process within the agency through which an AMAWD/ABAWD can meet the goal of question 3???

5 -- Being as [the DOES] director has said that there are many job opportunities that don't go through DOES at all, can you/[your agency] devise a process for informing people about job opportunities that might not even be registered on DC Networks??? Maybe it could be an interactive page on the website where someone who is not an employer can say, "I just got a job here" or "My friend just told me that [such and such company] is hiring".

6 -- How would [your agency] react if a homeless ABAWD/AMAWD entered the office with their mind made up, presented a viable plan (knowing that they need the BOLD-italicized items but not being sure as to how to get them) and insisted that [your agency] help them navigate through ALL of the services they need in order to get to a place of making $800/week???

Thanks a mil...or shall I say "Thanks 40,000"???

Eric Jonathan Sheptock
TEXT!!! (240) 305-5255 (4 swift response)

Other things I've written about ICH Communication:
Mayor Muriel Bowser, improve ICH Communication (Wisdom of the Crowd)
ICH Communication Breakdown
Meet Us Where We're At. Fostering Open Communication Kills Anger (M.U.W.W.A. F.O.C.K.A.
My e-mailed promise to help the ICH with its communication issues

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