As our previous Visioning Day Report blog posts have highlighted, housing is the foundation to ending homelessness. But, we also need coordinated and systemic shifts in policies, programs, procedures and practices to achieve this paradigm. Solving homelessness cannot be the sole responsibility of any one entity; we must have a societal accountability to ensure safety, justice and opportunity for all children and families of the Commonwealth. It is through the connectedness- of people to programs; policies to procedures; resources to realities; data to doing; and systems to services- that we can have networks of support that treat all people with dignity and respect. The specific recommendations for this vision are:
- Enhance coordination and implement complementary policies, practices, and procedures between state agencies
- Invest in technology upgrades to allow information sharing between shelters and state agencies, comprehensive data collection and reporting, and more transparent and accessible information for families.
Multi system coordination and technology were themes that emerged in each distinct breakout group and have been evident in each of the preceding summaries of our recommendations. Considering homelessness with a cross agency and holistic lens- be it in policy making or practice- will present more pathways to economic and housing stability. Using frameworks- such as the Full Frame Approach-will leverage individual social capital, peer support, and partnerships for problem solving. Cyber networks and technology can allow us to connect and share information and resources in ways that are unprecedented. Policies must not be made based on perception or rhetoric, rather data should drive decision making.
On State Agencies
We have seen positive results from the Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness, especially in focused subpopulation initiatives and pilot programs. We need to build on this model of interagency collaboration. On a macro level- working across secretariats can glean conflicting policies; impacts of funding and spending across agencies; regulations that create disincentives, barriers and unjust sanctions; eliminate the cliff effect; minimize bureaucracy and duplication; and maximize efficiencies, resources, and effectiveness of state programs. On a service level- interagency collaboration and coordination can provide opportunities for staff trainings (across state agencies and in housing and homelessness programs), less duplication of services, and more pooling of resources and wisdom. Specific feedback at Visioning Day included more inclusion and coordination for solving individual and systemic homelessness with- schools, and early education and care programs, health care, the Department of Transitional Assistance and the Department of Children and Families, and education and job training programs.
Can we pause from this wonkiness for a moment to recognize that Facebook was invented in Massachusetts? And that we have some of the smartest students and computer technology professionals in the world right here in Boston? Yet, we seem to have such limitations with data systems, a hard to navigate state website, computer systems that can’t talk to each other? We can and must do better. Maybe Zuckerberg can help?
Imagine going to the doctor’s office and if you had to provide all of your medical history every time you went- to the receptionist, then again with the nurse practitioner, and again with the doctor- and if after the nurse took your vitals, she kept that information and the doctor did it all over again. That is a little bit like what our homelessness and housing system does to families. It is an inefficient and triggering. While there are confidentially issues to consider, attendees at Visioning day recommended a shared data base- like a Mass.gov Efforts to Outcomes, and a printable or accessible assessment a family could present at intakes to reduce the number of times they have to share their story.
The general sentiment was that we could be doing so much more with technology- to share information, to clarify guidelines, for applications, for centralized lists, to get questions answered, to learn about resources.
So how do we carry this vision forward?
How do we structure government oversight of homelessness and diffuse the urgency to solve the crisis across agencies and communities. How can we create networks of support for families- in their communities and online. How can we work collectively to ensure that families facing housing instability are treated with respect and dignity in the media, when they ask for help, and in their journey to stability?