In the spring of 2009, the national Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act was signed into law and mandated several changes, including an increase in prevention resources and an emphasis on performance. Shaun Donovan, the secretary of HUD at the time, charged agencies to demonstrate that federal Continuum of Care (CoC) funding was making an impact on the underlying causes of homelessness within the community and being used effectively. A streamlined approach was necessary to drive agencies toward collaborated and strengthened efforts to abide by the HEARTH Act requirements.
In 2010, the Federal government created the Opening Doors comprehensive plan to prevent and end homelessness. The Way Home program serving greater Houston was founded in 2012, when CFTH was chosen to be both lead agency and lead HMIS agency to the local CoC, and launched a new HMIS system, Eccovia Solutions’ ClientTrack platform. To support the Federal plan, Houston area agencies increased their collaboration to ensure that funding for housing and other services for the homeless population was secured.
In early 2011, the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County (CFTH) led and organized the Point-In-Time (PIT) Homeless Count in the greater Houston area, including Harris and Fort Bend Counties. The 2011 Homeless Count identified 8,538 sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals in Harris and Fort Bend counties. People experiencing homelessness also need transportation, assistance getting clothing, employment services, housing vouchers, medical care and internet access.
Data from this study showed that homelessness in the greater Houston area could be attributed to the following life-changing events:
- 35 percent due to loss of jobs
- 15 percent due to bills higher than earnings
- 13 percent due to eviction by a family member
- 11 percent due to abuse at home
- 11 percent due to incarceration
- 10 percent due to sickness, disability or mental issue
- 10 percent due to change in family status
- 9 percent due to drugs/alcohol
In 2012, a community charrette was held, which sought input on all aspects of homelessness from stakeholders representing all segments of the community: nonprofits, local governments, faith groups, private citizens and more. The charrette led to the creation of a Comprehensive Action Plan to end homelessness. It also led to the creation of The Way Home, a community-wide collaborative system with goals and strategies to meet the federal goals on ending homelessness that were set by the Obama administration.
A PIT count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons in 2011 showed a 25.2 percent increase (8,538 total) compared to the prior year. Before 2012, agencies worked in silos and were unable to effectively communicate, analyze data and relay information, which limited overall effectiveness in both Harris and Fort Bend counties. The Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) that was used by agencies was functioning mainly as a one-way tool where data went in but did not come out in ways that would inform the decisions being made or the work. As an information gathering tool only, HMIS could not provide the cultural insights needed. Before coordinated access with an HMIS system, many homeless agencies did not have open or interagency communication to provide long-term solutions. Harris and Fort Bend counties needed a way to centralize efforts and communicate across agencies to focus on the specific needs of the homeless population and create transparency across all levels. This change would enable agencies to fully understand the layout of The Way Home program and work toward meaningful solutions that would help end homelessness and could secure additional government and private funding.
The Way Home Program allowed for coordination between different agencies and honed in on specialty areas of care for the homeless population. The program began utilizing ClientTrack as a more efficient technology to support integrated case management across agencies. By customizing ClientTrack, CFTH has a much clearer picture of the magnitude and nature of homelessness in their area. The technology allows CFTH to capture client-level, system-wide data over time on the characteristics and service needs of adults and children experiencing homelessness.
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