While the Executive Order officially designating the state’s re-establishment of the Interagency Council on Housing And Homelessness (ICHH) has not yet been signed, Executive Secretaries Jay Ashe (Housing and Economic Development, HED) and Marylou Sudders (Health and Human Services, HHS) have begun to build upon its design. To share some information about the objectives of the ICHH, Linn Torto, its newly appointed Executive Director, attended the recent meeting of the CHAPA Homelessness Committee to share the vision and framework of the ICHH.
The ICHH has hired the consulting firm, Public Consulting Group, which has been meeting with various stakeholders – including advocates, shelter & service providers and consumers – to finalize a list of recommendations on measures the state could take to build stronger connection between state departments, particularly between HHS and HED agencies, particularly the Department of Housing and Community Development.
The ICHH will be co-chaired by Secretaries Ashe and Sudders and its members will include heads of other state agencies that connect with individuals and families who are at-risk of or who are experiencing homelessness. Linn shared the excitement of the ICHH members and their commitment to working toward improved assessment, triage, diversion and placement; more upstream collaboration and early on planning; and implementation of a model replicating HUD’s coordinated entry system.
Linn provided a list of subgroups and areas of focus (this is not all-inclusive) that the ICHH will look to for guidance in addressing the needs of particular populations of stakeholders. These groups will either be direct sub-committees of the ICHH, or they currently exist elsewhere in parallel efforts of state government. Here are some more highlights (and some commentary) from the discussion on specific populations/programs:
- Veterans – much work is being done to end homelessness amongst veterans on both the federal and state level. For those veterans who are not eligible for the federal VASH vouchers, DHCD is making available 65 newly-funded MRVPs through various Continuums of Care (COCs) across the state. The ICHH will continue to support these efforts and explore the leveraging of federal dollars through Medicaid to provide stabilization supports for veterans. Additionally, this committee will look at how the state could provide homelessness prevention services to veterans at risk of losing their public housing.
- Elders – ICHH will form a subgroup to look at solutions to homelessness amongst elders, particularly those experiencing chronic homelessness
- Youth – there will be no ICHH subgroup on youth homelessness because of the existence of the Commission on Youth Homelessness, of which Linn is an ad-hoc member. The Commission will be looking to revisit its youth count and the survey that will be administered to youth experiencing homelessness. An RFR will be released next month on the $2 million that was secured in the FY2016 state budget to provide housing and services to youth.
- Survivors of Domestic Violence – the ICHH will work closely with the Governor’s Council on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence to look at how to address more appropriate placements for families escaping DV along with enhanced prevention and housing search strategies, while making connections further upstream.
- Individuals – with a recent spike in the number of individuals experiencing homelessness, the ICHH will work to maximize federal resources to service this population, particularly for those experiencing chronic homelessness and through federal reimbursement for housing stabilization services through Medicaid.
- Families – of important note, Linn shared that the ICHH currently has no intent to recommend further restricting access to Emergency Assistance (EA, the state’s family shelter system). Also, the ICHH will look at how to replicate the model for federal reimbursement for housing stabilization services for families through Medicaid.
- Tenancy Preservation Programs (TPP) – exist in parts of the state where the Housing Courts do and provide eviction prevention services to individuals and families where a household member has a disability. Linn will be meeting with MassHousing to look at how to expand the TPP model and provide more of those upstream services through the COCs.
The list above is not intended to be a full list of all of the work the ICHH plans to do and the stakeholders it hopes to engage, but it does provide some insight in the direction we can expect the Council to take. We are thrilled that it seems we may not have to go another round of fighting against restrictions to accessing shelter and look forward to learning more about the upstream prevention work the ICHH envisions for at-risk households – and for all of us to being part of those discussions. And finally, we hope to learn more details of the ICHH’s objectives on the preservation of our state’s current affordable housing stock and its plan to develop housing for low and extremely low income households across the state.
DS, Policy Director