Imagine a world without acronyms. Let’s take some pause to explain what that means and give some history and context.
Translation: The Department of Housing and Community Development has posted a Request for Information relative to the Emergency Assistance Program to inform the Request for Responses, which is a bid or application for a contract and funding.
We should start with the question, “What is a re-procurement?” The answer, “to procure something again” is not exactly helpful, so turning we turned to Google:
In this context, it is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, specifically the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), is seeking to obtain shelter units for families experiencing homelessness, to meet the state’s legal and moral obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of children. Because the state currently has contracts with nonprofit agencies to provide shelter, this is a re-procurement. It is an opportunity to re-contract – potentially funding new programs and ending contracts with others, to adjust portfolio size and program models; to make financial adjustments; and to introduce new program components, outcome measurements, and expectations.
The Request for Information (RFI) is a key component to the “especially with care or effort” part of the definition. This is when the purchaser (DHCD) takes the time to understand the needs and nuances of the system and the people it serves through a formal written series of questions. Potential bidders (shelters) and the broader community have an opportunity to respond the the questions. Responding to the RFI is not mandatory; respondents are not required to answer all of the questions. Responses must be made through the state’s bid solicitation system (CommBuys) and are considered public information.
Q: What is being re-procured?
The Emergency Assistance (EA) Program, commonly referred to as Family Shelter. This program currently contracts about $170 Million per year across about 50 programs to serve approximately 3,700 households per night.
Q: What are the steps of the re-procurement?
Q: When was the last re-procurement and what changes were made?
The last procurement process took place in 2008 and the new contracts were implemented in 2009. As part of the last re-procurement:
- The Housing Assistance Program, which was responsible for prevention and housing search, was dismantled and agencies were given the flexibility to bring housing search into programs or contract with an outside agency.
- Stabilization was added as a responsibility of EA programs, again through direct programming and staffing or subcontracts. Prior to the 2009-2019 contracts, stabilization was not a requirement. Some programs had outside funding and independent programs, but many did not.
- There were a few programs that were eliminated, a few new programs added. The overall shelter stock shifted – reducing the number of congregate shelters and adding more scattered site units. Rates, staffing patterns and program sizes also shifted.
Q: What was the context then and what has happened since?
- Around the time of the 2009 Procurement, a Commission to End Homelessness released a 5 year plan that included broader systems change efforts and investments, primarily in prevention pilots. The vision was that investment in prevention would lead to a decrease in homelessness, and the money saved from the reduced need for shelter would be reinvested in housing.
- The recession and housing crisis hit soon thereafter, and homelessness across the nation and in MA skyrocketed.
- Since the 2009 Procurement, there have been many policy changes and shifts including:
- Transferring the EA and individual shelter system oversight from the Department of Transitional Assistance to DHCD
- The HomeBASE program was launched, revamped, revamped, and revamped
- More restrictive eligibility criteria was implemented
- The number of EA shelter units expanded by approximately 1,700 units, including the implementation of the co-shelter model
- Diversion by EA providers was implemented in the local offices, including pilots for prevention
- There have also been shelter contract funding cuts and re-negotiations
- Over the ten year period, the nightly census of families in shelter increased from about 1,700 families to a high of 4,800 (with 2,400 in motels) and has plateaued to about 3,700 families (with 32 in motels)
So, while a procurement is certainly a time of change, it does not preclude other changes after implementation.
Q: What changes are anticipated in this procurement?
That is for all of us to influence, and for DHCD and the Baker/Polito Administration to decide. Here is the statement from the RFI cover letter with DHCD’s vision:
DHCD envisions an EA system that prevents families from becoming homeless, safely shelters families for whom homelessness is unavoidable, works to quickly find stable and sustainable housing for families in shelter, supports families in their transition into the community, and connects families with the services and supports they need. Consistent with a Housing First approach, DHCD believes that families can best address their needs when they are in their own homes.
The document asks specific questions in the following areas:
- Respondent’s Background Information
- Prevention and Diversion
- System Connections for Families in Shelter
- Mental Health and Other Disabilities
- Length of Stay
- Portfolio Mix and Size
- Post-Shelter Stabilization
- Data and Finance
The RFI can be accessed here. Homes for Families will be looking to our community to inform our response and encourage agencies and individuals to submit responses as well.