100 Day Challenge results in 29 entering supportive housing

Is it possible to support individuals who have experienced years of homelessness in connecting to permanent housing opportunities? What about those who are reluctant to engage services for a variety of reasons and are deemed to be the hardest to house?

A recent Heartland Continuum of Care effort saw 29 individuals with a history of unsheltered homelessness end their homelessness and enter supportive housing in 100 days. During this same time period, 45 households exited homelessness and entered permanent housing supported by HCoC organizations.

Heartland Continuum of Care partners concluded a 100-Day Challenge focused on better understanding and addressing the challenges connected to unsheltered homelessness on May 22. Cohorts in Springfield, Rockford, suburban Cook County and Will County participated in the challenge with technical support from RE!INSTITUTE and the Supportive Housing Providers Association. The initiative was made possible through the Illinois Office to Prevent and End Homelessness.

The effort kicked off in February when 12 people from Heartland HOUSED, Helping Hands, Washington Street Mission, Memorial Behavioral Health, SIU, volunteer outreach efforts and local leaders with lived experience attended a two-day summit in Joliet. The team of partners coordinated efforts through weekly meetings and integration with ongoing HCoC Task Groups focused on street outreach, coordinated entry and supportive housing.

Many complex factors contribute to people in our community living without shelter. Strategies to effectively connect people who are unsheltered to resources require consistent coordinated outreach, relationship and trust building, strong collaboration across partners and access to services necessary to provide complex care. Connected to this are the Heartland Continuum of Care’s efforts to build and maintain a by-name list of all people experiencing homelessness in Sangamon County.

Assessing existing community efforts, identifying gaps in service and experimenting with solutions were at the core of the 100 Day Challenge goals. During the challenge, local organizers aimed to work with 100 people experiencing unsheltered homelessness or with a history of unsheltered homelessness with the goal of helping 90% access the HCoC Coordinated Entry System and 15% entering supportive housing during the challenge. An additional goal was to support 25% of those engaged in accessing complex care services to address physical and mental health care, psychiatric care, and substance use and harm reduction services.

Innovation and experimentation were keys to making progress and improving on existing Street Outreach efforts. Our community is fortunate to have community initiatives such as the Springfield Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team, the Springfield Empower Equip and Deflect program and volunteer outreach efforts in the community. The challenge is to ensure all these efforts work hand in hand to provide housing focused services and referrals necessary to assist people in ending their homelessness.

During the 100 Day Challenge, collaboration across these efforts was improved through new Outreach training resources, the development of an Outreach Map, and an experimental Outreach Tool designed for ease of use for volunteers to share information and make referrals to services. Another goal was to incorporate people with lived experience of homelessness in outreach efforts. Heartland HOUSED leads regular outreach outings and compensates people with lived experience for their participation in street outreach.

At the end of the challenge, 29 individuals entered housing opportunities paired with rental subsidy support and case management services that work to help people stabilize in housing, increase their income and connect to any community based services that are needed. Sixty-three individuals completed coordinated entry assessments that put them on the pathway to supportive housing in our community. Partners involved in the effort celebrated seeing people they have engaged with, in some cases for more than five years, accept supportive housing opportunities and enter their own apartments.

The challenge ahead is how to sustain progress made while continuing growth and innovation. A significant part of the success made during the challenge was due to growth in the number of supportive housing opportunities available in our community. Funding is needed to continue growth in local permanent supportive housing and rapid rehousing programs so more households can exit homelessness through these programs. While street outreach efforts have improved in our community, there is a need for additional devoted street outreach staff to assist in collaborative efforts. Availability of complex care services to provide ongoing support for people who are in supportive housing programs continues to be a need identified by local case managers working to help households achieve stability in permanent housing.

Heartland HOUSED and the Heartland Continuum of Care continuously strive to make progress on Springfield and Sangamon County’s 2022-2028 Strategic Plan to Address Homelessness. The 100 Day Challenge has accelerated progress in several areas to that end while also identifying challenges and gaps where improvements must be made so our community can continue building a more effective and equitable system to functionally end homelessness in our community.

Josh Sabo is the executive director of Heartland HOUSED.

Josh Sabo

Josh Sabo is executive director of Heartland HOUSED, which serves as the backbone organization tasked with developing strategy, supporting implementation activities and facilitating the collaborative work of the Heartland Continuum of Care with the purpose of effectively addressing homelessness in Sangamon County...

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