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Chronic Homelessness: A problem that is inherently solvable

By Andrea Iloulian, November 11, 2013

On October 2, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation hosted over 80 local stakeholders for the third annual Chronic Homelessness Initiative Convening at the California Science Center in downtown Los Angeles.

On October 2, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation hosted over 80 local stakeholders for the third annual Chronic Homelessness Initiative Convening at the California Science Center in downtown Los Angeles. In addition to hearing from experts in the field, attendees engaged in grantee peer learning, were given an overview of progress toward the goals of the Initiative, and had an opportunity to see the Science Center’s new star attraction, the Endeavour Space Shuttle, up close.

Dr. Manuel Pastor, Professor of Sociology and American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, kicked off the convening with a keynote address. Presenting findings from his research on the ten key elements for a successful social movement, Dr. Pastor shared examples of past and present winning efforts. Guests were encouraged to examine key elements in developing a successful social movement to end homelessness in Los Angeles.

Heads nodded in agreement as Dr. Pastor touched on the necessity of a “viable economic model” and a “successful scaffold of solid research” in such movements. With studies showing that it costs essentially the same—and in some cases even less—to house someone in stable, supportive housing as it does to keep a homeless person in the revolving cycle of crisis care and emergency shelter, stakeholders in the room felt encouraged by the strength of the movement in these two key elements.

Dr. Pastor shared with the audience that “movements don’t fall apart when they win, they thicken.” Given how public, private, and non-profit entities have joined together around Home For Good and other efforts to coordinate funding, vision, and energies, the community has experienced some big “wins” over the last three years and the group is in a strong position to continue working and “thicken” the movement.

The convening continued with evaluation and learning partner Abt Associates, who shared findings from their most recent evaluation report on the progress of the Foundation’s five-year Chronic Homelessness Strategic Initiative. After more than two years of strategic efforts, the report identifies key challenges and opportunities for the Initiative moving forward: 1) turnover in many political offices (many of whom are among the strongest champions of homelessness services); 2) large decreases in public funding due to sequestration; and 3) the implementation of innovative solutions, such as Coordinated Entry and Moving On, that could stimulate long-term systems changes. The presentation also highlighted how, despite Los Angeles’s past reputation of being too complex and fragmented for large-scale change, public agencies throughout the County are disproving the naysayers and continuing to align efforts. Examples included the addition of the Cities of Santa Monica and West Hollywood in the Home For Good Funders Collaborative as well as the Department of Health Services’ new Housing for Health program that, with support from the Foundation and other public sector partners, has developed the County’s first local housing rental subsidy. (view Abt Associates’ presentation), the entire report, or the report dashboard.

Dr. Mitch Katz, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, concluded the morning’s event with insights into a viable economic model of the movement. With the supportive housing model, homelessness is “a problem that is inherently solvable” and the solution “is not more expensive than the way we are treating the existing problem.” Dr. Katz applauded the progress made to date as evidenced by the evaluation of the Hilton Foundation’s initiative and pressed fellow stakeholders to take advantage of the current momentum to push efforts to scale by providing more than 15,000 housing units for people experiencing chronic homelessness in the County. He compared this momentum to a snowball picking up energy, force, and matter through the efforts of great people, great projects, and innovation:

Dr. Katz not only spoke about the benefits the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will provide to the effort, but also challenged the group to start thinking about next steps, particularly the 2014 consideration of the 1115 waiver. While the ACA’s auditing rules currently allow for funding to support case management and other essential services of supportive housing, passage of the 1115 waiver will alter the rules to allow health benefit dollars to be used for housing subsidies:

Dr. Katz also shared insights on an opportunity to prevent long-term homelessness through early treatment of psychosis for low-income youth. Research demonstrates that beginning treatment early can have significant impacts on long-term mental health, therefore reducing the likelihood of homelessness at a later stage:

Watch all of Dr. Katz’s presentation

On behalf of the Foundation, I would like to thank the speakers, partners, grantees, and other stakeholders for helping create another thoughtful and inspiring convening. Were you there? If not, do you have any reactions to the comments in the videos? We’d like to know what you think – Add your comments below.

Andrea Iloulian Twitter

Senior Program Officer, Domestic Programs

Andrea Iloulian Twitter

Senior Program Officer, Domestic Programs

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