Part II: Why Every Community Should Apply for the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (even if they don’t intend to submit)

Written by guest blogger, Matthew Aronson. This is the second in a two-part series, exploring the upcoming Notice of Funding Availability for the FY 2017 Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program. Part 1 can be found here.

If asked when an agency will make an unpublished grant notice public, federal officials often respond with a hopeful “soon,” “imminently,” or “any day now.” If you’ve been in public policy long enough, you know that could mean tomorrow, or it might mean never. The truth likely lies somewhere in between.

But when it comes to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) next Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP) Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA), communities don’t need to wait. The original YHDP NOFA, and resources published on the HUD Exchange, are all you need to move forward.

Moving Forward

Gather your core youth community team, including young people, and take the following steps:

  1. Download and review the rating factors from last year’s NOFA (p.26-32). Complete this ahead of time and review as a team. Everyone should be on the same page.
  2. One by one, brainstorm potential answers. Don’t spend too much time writing or editing.  Bullets are fine. Simply identify how well you will be able to answer each question.
  3. Identify and evaluate the gaps. Take note when the community doesn’t currently have the capacity or experience to fully answer a question. Compile the gaps and evaluate each one based on answers to the following questions:
    • What would it take to add the capacity or gain the experience necessary to fill the gap?
    • Can we fill the gap within the 60 to 120 days of a HUD grant competition?
    • Would the benefits of applying on-time outweigh the pain it might cause?
  4. Decide whether to Go, or Go Slow. Decide to “Go” and apply if you can confidently address most of the rating factor questions and answer “Yes” to the final two gap questions in Step 3. If not, “Go Slow,” and fill in the identified gaps at your own pace.
  5. Create a plan with a defined timeline. Regardless of whether you decide to apply, write a plan for developing strong responses to all the rating factor questions. Include specific and measurable commitments from each team member. If applying, set a deadline within 120 days . If not, set a deadline within 9 months. A detailed timeline, public commitments, and a shared sense of urgency have been critical to the success of all recent national initiatives.

Additional Considerations

Before continuing, consider how you will develop a coordinated community response to youth homelessness without YHDP funding. Planning processes can be expensive, and communities frequently underestimate the time and money they require. The planning process will also end with an ask for intervention funding, so talking with local stakeholders, including government and philanthropy, about planning and implementation costs will be critical to maintaining momentum.  Just don’t let money be an excuse to slow down. If you have prepared your stakeholders for all contingencies, then you can leverage the NOFA to do the work of ending youth homelessness without waiting for “next year’s competition.”

Federal and national partners produced a variety of resources designed to help you plan your response.  HUD published six guides directly tied to the YHDP, three of which cover the planning process, and one each covering youth engagement, coordinated entry, and housing first. The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness also has a comprehensive list linked to their “tools for action” page.

For more intensive facilitation, reach out to a technical assistance provider. You can access one of HUD’s consulting partners, with experience in youth homelessness and the Continuum of Care, by making a request on the HUD Exchange. You can also contract with them directly using local funding sources.  You might consider independent consultants in your area who may already have experience working in your community.  Whomever you reach out to, make sure they have experience with facilitation, familiarity with the YHDP, and the relationships to connect you to national resources and case studies.

Answering the rating factor questions in the FY 2016 YHDP NOFA will help your community take the first few steps towards preventing and ending youth homelessness.  You can begin that work today. Together with available online and in-person technical assistance resources, these steps will prepare you for success in the next YHDP competition and in all other youth homelessness grant opportunities.

Matthew Aronson is an independent consultant dedicated to helping communities end youth homelessness.  He formerly worked for HUD as the agency’s subject matter expert on youth homelessness, and led the development of the YHDP.  He is a returned peace corps volunteer, and has been a teacher, coach, direct service provider, and youth programs director. He lives with his wife in Cambridge MA.