Don’t Forget to Demonstrate Partnerships in your NOFA Application

This post is the eighth in a series examining the Department of Housing and Urban Development's recently released Notice of Funding Availability for the Fiscal Year 2015 Continuum of Care Competition. You can find the full series here: FY 2015 CoC NOFA.

We’re still digging through HUD’s latest CoC Program NOFA to determine what CoCs should do to secure the maximum amount of federal funds to assist homeless people.

Today, we’re looking at all the incentives spelled out in the NOFA that encourage communities to develop partnerships. HUD will base about a quarter of the points in a community’s overall “score” on the CoC’s strategic use of resources. And by “resources” HUD doesn’t just mean the CoC funds HUD is awarding; it also means the array of funding resources CoCs can access through these partnerships.

Getting the best possible score requires that homeless system leaders show that they have built partnerships with other public and private agencies that either control those funding resources or have the expertise to ensure all homeless people in the CoC are appropriately served.

So what is HUD asking CoC leaders, who apply for federal funds on behalf of homeless service providers, to do?

Open up the planning process.

Who attends the CoC meetings to determine spending priorities for ending homelessness in your community? Does your CoC ensure all the homeless service providers in the region are included, even those who receive no public funding? Are domestic violence providers and unaccompanied youth providers represented? Invite new partners to the table.

Coordinate with the Emergency Solutions Grant Program!

This is very important. The Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) Program is awarded separately from the funds administered by CoCs, but ESG pays for homelessness prevention, rapid re-housing, emergency shelters and outreach. It’s a critical component of any community’s response to homelessness.

HUD is strongly encouraging CoC leaders to work closely with agencies that are administering ESG funds. CoC leaders can help inform how ESG funds are allocated to have the largest possible impact on ending homelessness in the jurisdiction. This should include strongly encouraging them to invest substantially in rapid re-housing.

Hopefully your CoC leads are already working closely with ESG recipients. If not, start talking now.

Partner with public housing agencies.

In recent years, HUD has encouraged public housing agencies (PHAs) to do more to assist homeless people in the communities they serve. Has your CoC been able to leverage this national effort locally? Have PHAs in your community adopted preferences for people experiencing homelessness?

Explore with your PHA leaders whether they would consider adopting preferences for homeless people now, so your CoC can take credit for that action in the NOFA submission, and homeless individuals and families will benefit by accessing subsidized housing.

Work to prevent vulnerable people from being discharged into homelessness.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for individuals who are discharged from hospitals, mental health programs, or correctional facilities to find themselves on the street trying to meet their housing needs on their own. Too often, they are forced to turn to homeless shelters.

That’s why HUD is awarding points to applicants who have worked with state and local institutions or systems of care to develop policies to prevent this from happening.

This is not an easy lift. After all, state officials don’t report to homeless service providers. But HUD is incentivizing communities for at least trying to work with them to implement a strategy (an “ongoing planning process” in the NOFA) to prevent discharges into homelessness. Certainly, that’s a threshold worth striving to reach.

Have your CoC leaders begun this discussion with state officials? Have leaders from other CoCs in the state begun this discussion with state leaders? Could you join forces? Now, may be the time to start those conversations.

Partner with schools

HUD is also encouraging CoCs to partner with school systems to identify children, youth, and families who are homeless and make sure that homeless children are linked to school or early education opportunities. What mechanisms do you have in your community (expedited referral, reserved placements, etc.) to connect young children in homelessness programs to early childhood programs? Do your COC programs accept referrals from school liaisons who work with families facing homelessness?

Are there policies that address these questions in place? If so, document them in your application. If not, it’s time to start developing them.

Coordinate, coordinate, coordinate…

HUD is strongly incentivizing CoCs to coordinate federal homeless assistance resources with a range of other federal funding streams, including programs serving runaway and homeless youth, programs serving people living with HIV/AIDS (HOPWA), and programs serving low-income families with children. All of these programs are serving people who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness.

What are they providing? How can you join forces to achieve common goals? Maximum points are awarded for applications that reflect CoC coordination with all of these other programs. It may be a little late to demonstrate collaboration if no prior relationship with agencies that manage these resources now exists, but delaying the conversation doesn’t help either. Get to know the leaders responsible for administering these funds, share your local plan to end homelessness and explore opportunities to collaborate.