Staff Perspectives: Conferences Do More Than Teach – They Inspire

Mar 13, 2018  |  at 12:03 pm  |  by sbrown

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By Sara Brown

A few weeks ago I attended the National Alliance on Ending Homelessness’ (NAEH) Annual Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness in Los Angeles, California. Though the Coalition sends staff to attend and present at both NAEH conferences each year, this was my first time attending and I was overwhelmed seeing the vast number of homeless providers from all over the country, together in the same hotel, to share information, resources, and expertise on how to end homelessness.

James, Michael and me at the conference – and excited to learn!

While at the conference, I began to think about my time at the Coalition and the fact that I’ve been able to be an observer and participant in the amazing work to solve homelessness in the Houston area. Through The Way Home, the collaborative effort to prevent and end homelessness in Harris, Fort Bend, and Montgomery Counties, our community has figured out that permanent housing programs (like Permanent Supportive Housing and Rapid Re-housing) are the programmatic solutions to homelessness; however, we wouldn’t have been able to implement those programs without a very special something else.

I’d like to suggest that, if permanent housing programs are the key to solving homelessness, then collaboration is the machine that cuts the key.

This may seem like a clunky analogy, but bear with me.

In 2011, homeless service providers in Houston were working in a pretty isolated manner and not really coordinating their services with one another. Because of this, local organizations were helping people manage their homelessness day-to-day, but they weren’t helping them end their homelessness. This de-centralization also made it really confusing for homeless people and harder for them to get help. Often, they were referred from one agency to another until they finally found the one that could actually help them with their specific needs.

The result of this disconnection of services was that by 2012, we had the 6th largest homeless population in the nation, and you could expect to find more than 7,100 homeless people on a given night in our community – most of them living on the streets.

In 2012, homeless service partners, local governments, and other stakeholders came together through The Way Home to share information, work collaboratively, and transform the way we serve homeless individuals and families in our region. The partnerships that we have made (and continue to make) have spurred innovation, reduced red tape, and allowed our community to serve an increasingly larger number of homeless households in a very efficient and effective way.

This has led to some pretty incredible successes! Since 2011, there has been a 60% decrease in homelessness. Partners of The Way Home have housed more than 11,000 people since 2012, and when we check in with those people at the two-year mark, about 90% of them are still housed.

Absolutely none of this would have been possible if we hadn’t come together to break down our organizational walls and change the way we work – both as individual organizations and as a system.

I think it’s only natural that my time at the NAEH conference made me think about the progress we’ve seen in Houston. But there’s always a flip side. The conference also reminded me that we still have some things to figure out: panel discussions about encampments, presentations on the role that mental healthcare plays in solving homelessness, and workshops on ending homelessness for youth and young adults also reminded me that we still have work to do here at home.

But back to the positive! There’s the networking. The brainstorming with new friends from all over the United States – and even the world! The emailing and phone calling that happens in the weeks and months after the conference. It’s all so invigorating.

Knowing that, literally, thousands of people across the country are working tirelessly, day after day, just like all of us here in Houston, gives me hope and propels the partners of The Way Home toward our goal that no one has to be without permanent housing for more than 30 days.