Two weeks ago, we examined how one Midwestern community went about increasing its affordable housing stock. Last week, we published a piece on how Knox County could institute a ‘master leasing’ strategy in hopes of reaching a functional zero milestone.
MOUNT VERNON — Social services can often be scattered throughout a county or city.
It can lead to disjunction, ambiguity and confusion on where to go next. It also means a dependence on transportation, knowledge, and trusting individuals to attend and remember their appointments.
A social service center one-stop shop can be a bastion for unhoused individuals or those seeking mental health treatment.
But it isn’t done in a vacuum. It requires partners — ranging from non-profit organizations, government agencies and local leaders — to make a difference. One partner in this project that could help Knox County is Reinstitute, formerly known as Rapid Results Institute.
Reinstitute is a global non-profit, focusing on lowering homelessness across the world along with other issues. The organization works with communities, either rural or urban, and constructs a “100-day challenge” to gather these different entities together to make a consequential change in homelessness in 100 days.
A 100-day homelessness challenge could make a difference in Knox County — and it’s been seen and done successfully in neighboring communities. Change has been seen in states ranging from west to east coast.
Only 50 miles south of Mount Vernon, Columbus worked with Reinstitute in 2017 to open rapid re-housing (RRH) resources to youth who had not accessed shelter, creating new paths to housing for youth experiencing homelessness.
They also collected names on transitional-age youth (TAY), speaking to those already in the shelter system and drop-in centers to gain insight on strategies for the 100-day challenge.
“System leaders and local providers reported that the 100-day challenge was the first time youth providers and youth with lived experience have been intentionally included and treated as experts in local efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness,” the challenge summary reported.
The goal was to safely house 30 TAY experiencing homelessness who were not currently utilizing shelter systems. After 100 days, 68 TAY exiting the shelter system were safely housed, exceeding the goal by more than 50%.
In addition, Columbus saw an increased rate of successful youth exits from adult shelters. According to Reinstitute data, single, unaccompanied youth that successfully transitioned from the shelter system into housing increased from 8% to 21%. They also found that transitions to housing for youth-headed families increased from 61% to 69%.
More recently, Reinstitute just finished a 100-day campaign with several communities in California from 2020 to 2022 that saw promising results. In those two years, 1,852 people were safe and stably housed after 100 days across three California communities.
HOW IT WORKS
A liaison from Reinstitute works alongside a municipality asking the community to gather county and decision leaders that are able to support the 100-day challenge. For this approach to work, there needs to be “a coalition of frontline staff to support the homeless issue,” said Marney Thomas, Housing and Homelessness Venture Lead.
“A lot of street outreach workers, case managers, those with lived expertise” can help make a difference, Thomas said.
The challenge is typically made up of 16-18 frontline staff, with a dedicated coach that works with them throughout the challenge. Once the team determines their 100-day challenge goal, they develop a plan to accomplish that goal. Many of the teams include a landlord engagement strategy, which helps in finding placements, Thomas said.
Examples Thomas laid out were:
- Forming innovative housing strategies, including shared/bridge housing.
- Having a robust landlord engagement and incentive strategy.
- Fostering collaboration though resource sharing, including landlord contacts, available unit trackers and transportation vouchers.
- Connect the housing and homelessness system to adjacent systems whose participation is necessary to end homelessness. For example, in youth homelessness systems, this means including child welfare, juvenile justice and education systems.
- Identifying and developing solutions to bridge homelessness response systems to the business and civic community to create meaningful cooperation.
- Addressing the challenges that surface for those with lived expertise along each point in their journey, including the difficulties faced after they’ve found safe and stable housing to ensure sustainable impact.
Communities who’re interested can reach out to Reinstitute by going on their website and clicking on the contact page.
A challenge Reinstitute and communities face is documenting unhoused individuals and having a location for them because of their lack of an address. This can be partially solved with the frontline teams ready to help their communities.
“We really try to empower frontline teams to be innovative, to work quickly on goals, brainstorm ideas, work stream on how to make their goals achievable,” Thomas said. “Often communities don’t have the data on who is actually staying in encampments.”
Finding access to resources and identifying the root causes of why a person is unhoused is another key point Reinstitute tries to solve, Thomas said, adding it’s impactful to have these services intertwined.
“Often what we see is the homeless response does not have a relationship with behavior services,” she said.
When everything works together, it tends “to work more effectively.”
“The work that we do is often more impactful with communities that are often underfunded compared to their urban counterparts – sometimes I think when you’re in a rural community you aren’t given the resources or don’t have the resources to make a dent in the problem,” she said.
Julie Miller, executive director of Knox County’s homeless shelter The Winter Sanctuary, is collecting data on homelessness in Knox County, which she expects to take some time.
There is already a coalition formed in Winter Sanctuary with roughly 30 members, Miller said, and she’s hoping to form a separate housing coalition.
“The larger question is, that group has specifically looked at homelessness and how we could do more but we haven’t became an action assignment for us,” she said. “Now I’ll be transitioning to the director of the shelter with 30-plus agencies involved.
“Many of the homeless on the streets have addiction and mental health issues and look at what they can do,” she added. There’s also a plan on implementing a health-planning partnership.
The Winter Sanctuary has an “emergency needs” coalition that works with partners like non-profit Interchurch and Jobs & Family Services.
Until Miller begins her position next week, she’ll look at all options to make lower homelessness in Knox County — which may or may not take longer than 100 days.