Ask A Researcher

December 2014

Using Data to End Homelessness

Michael Carbone is the Executive Director of the North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People (NDCHP) where he serves as the coordinator for the ND Statewide Continuum of Care. NDCHP is the collaborative applicant for HUD’s Homeless Assistance Grants. NDCHP is also the statewide grantee for the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. The Coalition is the lead agency for the SOAR program (SSI/SSDI Outreach Access and Recovery). NDCHP serves as a state partner to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Carbone serves on a variety of committees and workgroups including the North Dakota Association of Nonprofit Organization’s Public Policy Committee, the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Policy Committee, the Transition from Prison to Community Leadership team and the North Dakota Inter-agency Council on Homelessness.
Prior to serving as the NDCHP’s director he was the Executive Director of the FM Coalition for Homeless Persons. Before that he was the coordinator of the Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program at Lakes and Prairies Community Action in Moorhead MN.
Awards include the Moorhead Human Rights Award, the NLIHC State and Local Organizing Award and the NDANO Innovation Award.

 

Measuring the housing needs of people experiencing homelessness has always been a challenge that depends on imperfect Point in Time counts, a Housing Inventory Chart that only accounts for beds designated solely to serve people who are homeless and the subjective opinions of homeless service providers. The North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People (NDCHP), the West Central Minnesota Continuum of Care (WC MN CoC) and the FM Coalition for Homeless Persons (FMCHP) is rolling out an innovative program called the Coordinated Assessment Referral and Evaluation System (CARES) that should greatly improve the assessment of unmet housing needs in North Dakota.

 The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires that the Point in Time count (a count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night) occur in the last week of January—not the optimal time to conduct a count in northern states where the homeless population may be less than in summer months and when volunteers to conduct the count are challenged by weather and a large, rural geography. The fact that HUD does not allow in the count  beds that are available to people who are homeless, but not specifically designated for them (i.e. mental health crisis beds), potentially skews a bed needs analysis. Data from the Point in Time Count and Housing Inventory Chart are used by service providers along with HUD formulas to calculate unmet need in regard to emergency shelters, transitional housing (limited time frame) and supportive housing (combination of housing and services). Providers estimate the percentage of homeless who need each type of intervention. The result is an estimate of housing need based on imperfect data and influenced by the subjective opinions of service providers.

CARES is a collaborative initiative designed to create a more effective and efficient homeless response system, as well as assure compliance with HUD mandates.  Although the primary purpose of CARES is to provide one intake to the homeless response system (the collection of strategies and programs available to address homelessness) and to provide triage based on a vulnerability index, moving away from a chronological wait list, the system promises a more robust method of calculating unmet need.  CARES provides a uniform and progressive assessment process that documents clients’ immediate housing situation, needs and barriers to identify need and priority for homeless services and includes a diversion screening, a vulnerability index and a full assessment of barriers to housing stability. Each component promises a wealth of objective, quantified information. Data is stored in the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) and can be shared among providers.

The diversion screening separates people who need only a “light touch” to end or prevent their homelessness from those who need more serious interventions. Some people can be helped by referral to food baskets and other food supports, short term rental or utility assistance, connection to mainstream resources or other temporary supports available in the community. Those who are deemed to need more than a “light touch” are assessed with the vulnerability index and are assigned a score that determines their eligibility for transitional housing or supportive housing. CARES includes extensive system mapping, and referrals to housing programs are made based on the identified needs of the household and the match to programs identified by the system map.

The full assessment is used as a case management tool for those households who are identified with high barriers to housing stability. The assessment is periodically repeated to determine progress in overcoming barriers and to inform supportive service referrals and case plans. Both the vulnerability index and full assessment used by CARES are evidence based tools developed by OrgCode, a Canadian firm, and are used in Canada, the United States, Europe and Australia.

The data gathered will provide an accurate measurement of identified needs, met and unmet. We will know system wide how many people received referrals for each type of intervention, if those referrals resulted in delivery of the needed service and what the outcome was for the household. For example, we will not only know how many people were identified to need supportive housing, but how many were successful in obtaining supportive housing, how many were not, and what  supportive service components they were matched to. The benefit for the system will be accurate and objective needs data and better planning for future housing and supportive service needs. The result for program participants should be reduced wait times, more appropriate referrals and improved outcomes.

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