This summer marked a new beginning for 102 chronically homeless New Haven residents.
The 100-day Challenge is a broad concept created by the nonprofit development consulting organization Rapid Results Institute and aims to catalyze change within a community over the course of 100 days. New Haven leaders applied the challenge to the problem of homelessness within the Elm City, aiming to secure housing for 107 individuals before July 30.
The New Haven effort differed from other similar campaigns in that volunteers and staff spanning different organizations joined forces in an effort to reduce redundancies and find long-term solutions.
“What we have found in our work in a variety of contexts is that bridging the gap between aspirations and impact sometimes requires a little jolt to the system,” said Rapid Results Institute founder Nadim Matta SOM ’89. “So we encouraged the system leaders in New Haven to come together and … to do in 100 days things that the community had been talking about for years.”
The challenge targeted chronically homeless individuals in New Haven, a subset of homelessness that is defined as being homeless for over a year, having experienced multiple episodes of homelessness or having faced a serious disability while homeless for a long duration, according to Executive Director of Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness Lisa Tepper Bates SOM ’09.
She said another feature that distinguished this campaign from similar efforts is that rather than leaving the organizational details to only the senior management, individuals “closest to the ground level” took the lead.
“The mid-level team is empowered to pilot systemic changes,” Tepper Bates said. “The idea is that the people who do this work every day … know what could be done to use resources better, more effectively, to reach the shared goal.”
The campaign began with a two-day bootcamp, which helped leaders and staff from agencies including Opening Doors Greater New Haven (ODGNH), United Way, City of New Haven, Columbus House and CT Coalition to End Homelessness learn about the philosophy of the 100-day Challenge and set goals, said Executive Director of Columbus House Alison Cunningham. She added that subcommittees, such as housing coordination, housing matching and housing liaisons were then created to expedite the process.
Matta said the role of the housing liaisons — an individual assigned to each homeless person — was critical since it ensured accountability as each homeless person filled out the paperwork and documents necessary for securing permanent housing.
Previous efforts to eradicate homelessness have set thresholds such as sobriety, mental health treatment or employment before allowing homeless residents to gain housing — an approach known as the “housing ready” model. But this campaign operated under a “Housing First” model, which removes all prerequisites to housing, setting it as the top priority.
“What the data tells us is this: the “housing ready” approach is backward,” Tepper Bates said. “Many — if not all — the challenges that someone experiencing homelessness faces are more successfully tackled from a basis of stable housing.”
A final goal of the effort was to shift away from reliance on homeless shelters and secure permanent housing, Matta said. He added that on a psychological level, being in possession of one’s own home is a milestone that gives a person a level of dignity to take agency of his or her life.
Tepper Bates likened temporary homeless shelters to an emergency room — part of a necessary crisis response. But they are no substitute for housing, she added.
Despite the success of removing 102 individuals from the streets — 43 already in apartments, 59 “matched” to apartments — the campaign faced a series of difficulties in reaching its goal.
Matta noted that one of the largest difficulties was finding rental units and landlords that would accept the voucher subsidies.
“The community needs to restore their confidence that, with the right support, chronically homeless individuals can be good tenants,” Matta added.
Tepper Bates said now that the challenge is over, the next step will be to follow up and institutionalize the changes that were created. She noted that while the first 100-day initiative was a “sprint,” ending chronic homelessness is a “marathon” and the pace must reflect that necessary time and effort.
Compared to other 100-day challenges, New Haven’s numbers were comparable to the pace of cities several times its size, Matta said.
Still, Cunningham concluded that the teams’ work is not yet complete, as there are more people to be housed, and improving the system of care remains an ongoing goal.
“If someone returns to homelessness? We start over,” she said.
Seven hundred and sixty-seven homeless residents live in New Haven as of January 2013, according to the United Way of Greater New Haven.