100-Day Homelessness Challenge Kicks Off

Thomas MacMillan PhotoLeigh Shields-Church’s “rapid-results” team emerged from a conference room lined with marker-scrawled battle plans with a new strategy and a bold goal: Place nearly all of New Haven’s chronically homeless into apartments of their own, by July 30.

The strategy resulted from a two-day “boot camp” attended by a dozen of New Haven’s homelessness services providers this week.

On Wednesday and Thursday, staffers from a host of social service agencies mapped out the ambitious approach to tackle homelessness in the city, and elected Shields-Church (pictured) of the Connecticut Mental Health Center as team leader.

The 100-day plan represents a rare coordinated effort between the many agencies in New Haven that deal with homelessness. For the next three months, a host of organizations will be teaming up to assess who among the city’s homeless need housing the most, helping those people to get ready to be housed, and then assigning them to apartments.

The 100-day challenge, funded by the United Way, is inspired by a similar program targeting homelessness on Los Angeles’ Skid Row, carried out with the help of the Rapid Results Institute. That organization usually works abroad, finding ways to jump-start international development projects with short-term, intensive efforts. It’s been applying those same techniques to tackle the problem of homelessness in this country.

Nashville and Chicago have undertaken similar attacks on homelessness. The initiatives target the chronically homeless, people who may have been out on the streets for years. The “housing first” model has shown that cities can drastically reduce homelessness and its costs by simply finding homes for the people who use the most homelessness resources or who are most endangered by homelessness.

On Wednesday, Rapid Results founder Nadim Matta (pictured), who happens to live in Branford, kicked off the two-day session in a conference room at the William Caspar Graunstein Memorial Fund in Hamden. He portrayed the boot camp as a chance to choose an ambitious goal and then map a path to achieve it.

Wednesday morning, the conference room was filled with directors and supervisors from local, state and federal homelessness and housing agencies. Organizations represented in the room included the Columbus House, the New Haven Housing Authority, Yale-New Haven Hospital, the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, the Veterans Administration, the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Also in the room were a dozen front-line staffers who do the day-to-day work of caring for the homeless. Those people would set the 100-day goal and map the pathway to achieve it, explained Alison Cunningham, head of the Columbus House. She urged them to think big, to be bold: “We want to give you guys the world to play with. We want you to create the system that’s going to work.”

After a couple of hours of ice-breakers and preliminary planning, the big cheeses left the rank-and-file to dive into the details.

On Thursday afternoon, the directors returned to a room transformed — tables pushed to the side and walls lined with sheets covered with notes, goals and “sub-goals,”checklists, acronyms, and timelines. Shields-Church rose to present the team’s work, to walk everyone through the 100-day plan the group had come up with.

First, the goal: New Haven will house 75 percent of its chronically homeless population — approximately 140 people — by July 30.

To do that, homelessness agencies will coordinate on a three-step process of assessing people, assisting them to get ready for housing, and then assigning them to housing.

The assessments will happen through outreach — people actively going out and interviewing homeless people — and through “inreach” — assessing people who land in the emergency room, for instance. Homelessness service providers will use an assessment tool that produces a score from one to 20. The higher the number, the more vulnerable that homeless person is to danger and even death.

All those assessments will be used to prioritize who gets housing first. The scores will be entered into an ad-hoc database created by the United Way’s J.R. Logan (pictured). A team of providers will then assign “navigators” to help people to gather the documents they need to get ready to move into a home: birth certificates, drivers licenses, social security cards.

Meanwhile, other team members will compile a list of available housing options. Those will include subsidized apartments as well as non-subsidized units, short-term “rapid rehousing” and long term “permanent supported housing.”

A designated “matcher” will be in charge of connecting homeless people with housing opportunities, ideally giving people a choice of where to live. By July 30, if all goes according to plan, about 140 now-homeless people will be in homes of their own.

Mid-presentation Thursday, New Haven Mayor Toni Harp (pictured) made a surprise visit. After listening to the plan, she offered her approval and support. She hailed the 100-day challenge for “overcoming the silos” that separate social service agencies and for tackling the tough cases, the 20 percent of homeless who use 80 percent of homelessness services.

People who work with the programs that are in place are being helped, she said. “Others get lost in cycles.”

“We’ve done all the easy stuff,” she said. “We need to drill down to people who interact most with systems.”

Harp offered to find staff and volunteer support for the challenge. “We are your partners.”

“This is what we’ve been waiting for for 30 years,” Columbus House’s Cunningham (pictured) said of the 100-day plan and the inter-agency cooperation.

One by one, members of the design team spoke about how excited they were, how long they’ve wanted to make a radical shift in the way the city approaches homelessness.

Amid all the excitement, Matta offered a reminder: The work is just beginning. “It’s going to be tough in the next 100 days.”

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posted by: Jones Gore on April 18, 2014  1:58pm

As someone who works with the homeless I’d like to see how they help those who can not afford an apartment because they are not able to find a job due to a criminal record. Homelessness is, for the large part, a result of incarceration and a criminal record that bars mainly men from finding a job to pay for an apartment.

Then there are elderly that need to be worked with for they receive a fixed income, so it should be easier to house them. Changes in housing policy need to made the give the elderly priority to housing. The Columbus house which only takes referrals should be helping the elderly since they provide transitional housing. There is not reason the elder should be staying at an emergency shelter every year.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 18, 2014  3:44pm

If you want to help the homeless.You must do what Robert Hayes did.He filed a lawsuit on behalf of a man experiencing homelessness in New York City. The lawsuit was settled out of court, and people experiencing homelessness won the right to shelter in New York City.

The Callahan Legacy:  Callahan v. Carey and the Legal Right to Shelter.


Robert Hayes: Anatomy of a Crusader


Robert Hayes also form The National Coalition for the Homeless.


posted by: wendy1 on April 18, 2014  3:49pm

I will be calling the guy at United Way in a 100 days to hear their results.  There are plenty of empty buildings and apt. in New Haven.  I spoke to John Bradley who runs Liberty Haven, a housing solution for destitute with HIV (30 men) and he said the only potential problem is arson or cigarette fire.  I had proposed non-smoking housing in New Haven.

posted by: concernedcitizenNewHaven on April 18, 2014  4:23pm

It is cheaper to pay for housing for the homeless than to pay for all the services required of the homeless. Salt Lake City saved millions of dollars by just paying rent for people who are homeless rather than paying for other things.

Also, there are 700 boarded up houses in New Haven. Why not confiscate them and turn them in to homeless/low cost housing?

posted by: Obrero on April 20, 2014  10:54am

Unless I missed a memo, one hundred days is not soon enough: 

The city is closing the overflow shelter on April 30th, less than two weeks from now, leaving hundreds with nowhere to lay their heads. 

Where, then, would you have them go?

posted by: Jones Gore on April 21, 2014  10:40am

I’m not convinced because there are so many under lining issue behind homelessness such as affordability,mental health, drug abuse, criminal history and life style choice. It maybe hard to believe but many choose homelessness as a life style because shelter is available.

posted by: wendy1 on April 21, 2014  3:45pm

100 days,  140 homeless sounds like quite the challenge for anyone any city.

It’s true the city owns and/or controls lots and lots of empty real estate.  My solution for homeless housing uses this land and/or buildings for permanent SRO style housing or studio style apt. maintained and run by the homeless themselves and WITH a free clinic and social work office on the premises for immediate support.  This is doable like in other cities.

@ Jones Gore—-try sleeping outside.  Even most damaged people would prefer a roof over their heads.  I am anti-shelter, pro-housing for any alcoholic, addict, or mental pt.  I believe in 2nd chances for indigent, non-violent, and hard-working people.  I also believe extremely ill people need a safe place to rest for as long as it takes.