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Public and Private, Better Together: NerdWallet’s Favorite Homelessness Coalitions

Oct. 22, 2012
Personal Finance
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It’s rare a day passes when we don’t encounter a homeless individual holding a sign at a stoplight or perched on a sidewalk with no food or shelter. Some pass judgment; others feel guilt or remorse. Some try to pass well-meaning policy, but struggle to know what to do and how to do it. To address this, homelessness coalitions and alliances draw on a wealth of expertise from various regions and sectors to implement long-term solutions to end homelessness. We honor these four coalitions for their emphasis on collaboration, data and planning.

The Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness: For bringing together a community

Mercer County, New Jersey, has a plan. Using a coalition of private enterprise, public organizations and community members, they’re tackling homelessness on an individual level and a systemic one. They’re bringing together federal, state and local dollars; non-governmental organizations’ expertise; and the practicality and experience of the private sector to provide affordable housing and support for the mentally ill, those who struggle with addiction and more. Their two signature program are Rapid Rehousing, which quickly moves families into permanent housing, and Housing First, which helps the chronically homeless by using housing as the catalyst that turns lives around.

Those two programs are becoming national models, not least for their focus on numbers and results. “The driver of system change is cost-benefit analysis.  At the end of the day, what are you getting for what you are paying?” says Herb Levine, executive director of the Mercer Alliance. “Rapid Rehousing shows results that triple the number of people working for earned income over Transitional Housing, for instance.  Housing First lowers costs in hospitals and jails, while providing a stable basis for people in recovery from homelessness, mental illness and substance use.”

Mercer County is showing that when homelessness falls, everyone benefits; and everyone can chip in to make that happen.

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The Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness: For mobilizing community

Like Mercer County, the state of Virginia employs partnership and planning in the fight against homelessness. VCEH’s primary focus is to ensure housing stability for those experiencing and at risk of homelessness. Their solution is to enforce a statewide system wherein the at-risk are protected and the homeless are rapidly rehoused. Aside from a moral imperative, this program reduces the economic burden that frequent emergency room or jail stays put on local governments.

VCEH is dedicated to coordinating statewide action and reaction through collaborative community efforts and initiatives. In particular, 1,000 Homes for 1,000 Virginians is a statewide initiative pioneered by VCEH, on the grounds that 45% of individuals experiencing homelessness are afflicted by one or more chronic conditions that shorten their life expectancies by 25 years. Using a national tool called the Vulnerability Index, VCEH systematically identifies and then houses those most vulnerable to premature death.

“VCEH, armed with this data, reached out to our partners and determined that we must do more and do better to address this tragedy,” says Phyllis Chamberlain, executive director.

“We believe that it is only through the dedication and commitment of people on the ground that we will mobilize Virginians to act in order to prevent the unnecessary deaths of their neighbors who are living in places never meant for a human being to live.”

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Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness: For doing the math

While anecdotes about homeless individuals and families are often moving, they’re not enough to base policy decisions on. That’s where the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness steps in: they back up those stories with hard data. Every year, their volunteers canvass the streets of Seattle and the surrounding areas, recording the homeless people who are often missed in telephone or email surveys.  Not only do the canvassers get a chance to bond with the people that they survey, but SKCCH also gathers valuable data on the extent of homelessness. SKCCH brings in local governments, NGO’s, religious groups and public housing authorities to collaborate on long-term solutions.

They also conduct a family turn-away survey, counting how many households are told that there’s no room for them in the homeless shelters. According to their most recent survey in January 2012, a full 116 households – that’s over 152 adults and 214 kids – were turned away from shelters in a single night. And this is the middle of January – it’s not warm in Washington. Thankfully, SKCCH is out there collecting the data and shaping policy for a housing-stable tomorrow.

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The National Alliance to End Homelessness: For shaping today’s policy and tomorrow’s thinking

The National Alliance to End Homelessness is a thought and policy leader in fighting homelessness. Its research and outreach arm, the Homeless Research Institute, helps to educate new thinkers and collect data for current ones. The Center for Capacity Building works with various communities to make sure that one area’s learnings are shared across the country. The NAEH draws on experience from a variety of sources nationwide, not only from different sectors but different geographic regions as well.

In true nerd from, the NAEH places a heavy emphasis on data. “Part of our work is disseminating data-driven knowledge about the practices and policies that are truly preventing and eliminating homelessness to the thousands of homelessness service providers across the country,” remarks Nan Roman, President and CEO. We honor the NAEH for not only gathering that data, but encouraging policymakers, thinkers and doers to use that data to end homelessness.

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