NOFA Performance Measures Making You Nervous? Embrace Your Outcomes.

This post is the ninth 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.

System performance outcomes make up 38 points of your HUD Continuum of Care Competition application this year. This means your performance now carries significant weight when it comes to determining your funding (more than ever before).

And while it may seem daunting to look at the numbers around your outcomes (or even downright scary), your outcomes will tell you what your vision should be for your system, and what kind of plan you should outline in your application. Here are ways you can reflect on your outcomes for HUD’s seven performance measures:

Has homelessness gone down? If your bottom line says no, take a look at your rapid rehousing programs. Consider increasing rapid rehousing to reduce your rate, including by reallocating funding in your CoC application. Also, take a look at your shelter programs. Are they low-barrier and housing-focused? Shelters that are low-barrier have fewer rules, and are therefore more accessible, especially for people who just need temporary shelter, so ensuring your shelters are low barrier could also affect your rate of homelessness.

Has first-time homelessness gone down? If your numbers suggest no, look at your prevention strategies. Are they well targeted? It’s hard to know who will become homeless and prevent homelessness for the first time. One way to target is by using diversion in your shelters. Also, people exiting institutions are at risk of homelessness. Do your jails, prisons, public housing authorities, and hospitals have exit plans that include a housing component? Work with these institutions to better target your prevention efforts and reduce first-time homelessness.

Has the length of time of homelessness gone down? If not, take a hard look at your shelter and transitional housing programs. (Keep in mind, Anyone in Transitional Housing (TH) is considered homeless.) Here are some questions you should be considering:

  • How many people have been in shelter for longer than 180 days?
  • Has anyone talked to them?
  • Is your TH being used sparingly and for your most vulnerable (youth, victims of domestic violence, people in recovery)?
  • And is there a way to shorten the length of time for those in TH?

Finally, take a look at how you are using rapid rehousing. Are you using it to get people out of shelter and off the streets as quickly as possible? The recent Family Options Study found that families offered rapid re-housing exited shelter one month faster than those who did not receive housing assistance.

Do your outcomes suggest that people are leaving your housing programs for stable, permanent housing? If this isn’t the case, investigate why your housing programs are struggling. Clients in these programs may have more housing barriers. Help these programs by working with them to assess their program capacity. You may want to consider relocating clients to other housing options. Sometimes finding the right fit takes a few tries. The quality and mix of services also determines whether someone will move on to stable housing.

Do your outcomes suggest fewer people are returning to shelter and the streets? If not, reflect on the program expectations for clients. If someone is returning to homelessness, you may need to try another set of services than you would for someone who is entering the homeless system for the first time. Reexamine services and asking yourself the following questions:

  • Are people being placed in appropriate housing based on their income?
  • Is there enough follow-up?
  • Do rapid re-housing case managers connect clients to the community supports that will keep them stable long after they have left the program?
  • Are there mechanisms in place for people to check back in for assistance before they become homeless again?

Do your outcomes indicate that people have increased their income? If your numbers suggest no, consider the following options:

  • Employ a job development specialist to work with employers to create more jobs for your clients.
  • Find funding to staff a dedicated SOAR person? (In some communities SOAR is paid for by hospitals or prisons to help them avoid recidivism.)
  • Create a plan to encourage collaboration with your local workforce investment board.

Do your outcomes suggest that you have enough outreach in place? If not, you may have existing allies that you are not tapping into. Consider partnering with other organizations to more effectively engage with people living on the streets. Police, librarians, public health officials, neighborhood volunteers, and others may prove to be valuable resources with a wider reach than your current outreach.

Lastly, show that you haven’t forgotten single adults! While there are no targeted points going towards efforts to end homelessness for people who aren’t veterans, chronically homeless, minors or parents with children, your efforts to serve them does impact your performance. Single adults make up the largest subpopulation of homelessness. Therefore, their outcomes factor greatly in these performance measures.

Outcomes can be scary, but if you want to end homeless, you’ve got to use your data. Face your numbers. And the best way to do that is to take a hard, honest look at the dynamics in your community and use that information to improve your system, and ultimately make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring.