(Photo Credit: Tom Brandt)
Imagine looking for a flight without a service like Expedia. Or trying to sell something without Craigslist. Now imagine being homeless and searching for housing without any one-stop-shop for finding anything. According to the United Way’s Chris Ko, this is exactly the world homeless people were drifting through, until 20 government agencies and non-profit groups came together in Los Angeles to form one singular database for housing.
“In a pre-Expedia world, it was hard to find what flights get you to where you want to go,” Ko said. “That’s hard enough for regular people, but for homeless people it’s nearly impossible. We worked to put all housing in one pool and get all the clients in another pool to get a much more organized protocol of matching people to housing.”
“Universal assessment, universal application — they did not have to fill out multiple applications, they did not have to be on multiple waiting lists,” Monica Guthrie-Davis of the Weingart Center Association said. “Imagine having one goal, with common tools, using common lanaguage, using one application…it’s almost like creating a Frankenstein. Collaboration is possible, it’s a matter of putting it all together and making it work.”
The 100-day pilot program was the attempt to better facilitate the path from street to shelter on Skid Row in Los Angeles, an effort called Coordinated Entry System. The program has been deemed a success by Ko and media outlets – like the Los Angeles Times – in large part because of the way it specifically targeted homeless people that have been on the streets long-term.
“We’re mainly trying to work with homeless people that have been homeless 10 years or longer,” Ko said. “In the past, some groups have housing resources and some didn’t, so it was like who does your mom know? If you’re on the street and you get found by one organization, you may have a great pathway to housing, but if you’re found by another organization you can get completely dead-ended.”
Those days seem to be over, because multiple groups set their bureaucracies aside to collaborate together for the public good. “This is a big thing we need to see in other systems,” Ko said. “I worked in a lot of other bureaucracies and know there are a lot of things that government bodies have to be careful of, traditionally.”
“We used what we already had on Skid Row, and in 100 days we developed a very lofty goal,” Hazel Lopez of LAMP Community said. “The first accomplishment was just bringing together all the service providers within Skid Row. We all agree on a goal, and we worked as a team to make it happen.” The collaboration culminated in the housing of 37 people over the 100 days, some in as little as just nine days.
The difference in results between the typical style of governance versus this collaborative exchange of ideas was striking, says Ko, because it gave them more flexibility. “We shifted matching styles,” Ko said, referring to the system by which homeless people are matched to housing. “At first, we tried to match the person to the housing unit. Then we tried matching the housing unit to the person. Little things like that, if it was the traditional government process, six months would pass and we’d realize it didn’t work. We’d switch the matching system and try it out for six months. This way, we had week to week changes.”
Fine tuning on the fly – it sounds revolutionary, and for people who have known the streets of central Los Angeles as their home for years, it truly is. And to see tangible results coming from governmental inter-agency collaboration that sidesteps bureaucracies and efficiently delivers services to the people who need them most? Well that’s a thing of beauty.