Similar to other communities across the country, the precursors to homelessness in the Wisconsin Balance of State Continuum of Care include unaffordable housing, domestic violence, disabling conditions, and poverty. Data from our most recent Point-In-Time count in January 2017 indicate that 34% of adults experiencing homelessness were domestic violence survivors, 24% had a persistent mental illness, and 14% had a substance use disorder. Every person has different strengths, barriers, and challenges. Yet there is one commonality shared by all people experiencing homelessness – the lack of a safe and stable home.
For survivors of trauma and violence, “a safe home is a symbol of freedom, autonomy, and healing,” according to Adrienne Roach, Policy and System Manager for End Domestic Abuse WI, and a member of our CoC Board of Directors. To create an effective system, we must bring together homelessness service providers, victim service providers, and all other systems of care that interact with people experiencing homelessness. Only through local and statewide collaboration can long-standing change be created.
Collaborating within Our Planning Processes
In the WI Balance of State CoC, victim service providers have played a critical role in the development of our organization. Partnership occurs both at the local level and the state-wide level. We have a domestic violence provider representative from the statewide advocacy organization on our Board of Directors. Locally, each of our 21 local coalitions comprise myriad organizations brought together to end homelessness, including victim service providers. In Wisconsin, those 21 coalitions cover 69 counties and create the Balance of State organization.
Victim service providers have always been encouraged and included in the CoC funding competition and the ESG allocation of funds. All funded organizations are required to participate on a CoC-level committee, such as discharge planning, diversion, emergency shelter standards, coordinated entry, and the youth and Veterans advisory boards. All CoC- and ESG-funded organizations are required to participate in coordinated entry and our bi-annual point-in-time counts. Most victim service providers that do not receive federal funds also participate in the point-in-time count process. The point-in-time results are the most accurate snapshot of non-HMIS data that we have at this time.
Collaborating within Our Coordinated Entry System
In the WI Balance of State CoC, victim service providers have been at the table helping to shape our organization as a whole since the beginning. While serving on committees, advocates provide insight and expertise on best practices throughout the development of policies and processes that impact service delivery, organizational structure, and process. One example of this partnership can be found in our coordinated entry system. With a no-wrong-door approach, a core component is access. In a safe and confidential manner, all people experiencing homelessness have an opportunity to access our system and receive a referral to the prioritization list regardless of where they present for service. Our prioritization lists are maintained in HMIS.
With the assistance of the victim service provider community, we were able to develop a comparable non-HMIS list using unique anonymous identifiers. The non-HMIS list functions similarly to the HMIS list, automatically prioritizing based on our CoC’s order of priority for each project type. Each local coalition voluntarily selects a non-HMIS list holder. In many communities, a staff member from a victim service provider serves that role. While the list holder and the CoC Director are the only ones with access to the prioritization list, the link to make referrals can be shared across the coalition, including county human services, housing authorities, hospitals, and schools. Through this collaboration, we were able to overcome data protection concerns by developing an alternative that addressed confidentiality and data security while retaining client access and choice using a trauma-informed method.
Collaborating toward a Shared Vision
Collectively, all of the providers participating within our CoC and our coordinated entry system are striving toward a shared vision, perfectly captured by Ms. Roach: “We must strive to understand the diverse experiences of all human beings in our communities. We must stretch beyond traditional methods of support, provide trauma-informed services, diligently maintain survivors' confidentiality, and find creative and holistic solutions to housing challenges. That takes building relationships with key stakeholders and nontraditional community partners. It will take a Housing First approach to ensure the dignity and respect of every survivor. And finally, it will take meaningful investments, from local, state, and national partners, in the capacity and resilience of survivors to heal and lead safe and happy lives.”