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Getting Systems to Work Together: How to Solve Big Problems that Impact Homelessness

I was doing some research this morning and came across a really interesting article about some new services for people who are homeless in Louisville, KY. As part of an annual one-stop service day for homeless veterans there – an event where multiple providers come together under one roof to try and serve, at the same time, the continuum of needs that people who are homeless face – the local court came out. A judge held court, at the event, for veterans who were homeless and had bench warrants and fines. Most were reduced or waived. Now, this might sound small, but it’s really not. Bench warrants and outstanding fines can keep someone who is homeless from getting a job or renting an apartment. In other words, these things can literally prevent someone who is homeless from ending their homelessness. So, it’s a big deal. Linking the court system into a day of non-court services solves a problem better, quicker, and cheaper than trying to run these folks through the courthouse and the jail. And I thought that was a pretty groovy idea. “Sometimes there are way more efficient ways to do things but we don’t always do them in the Hall of Justice due to the sheer volume of cases,” said the Louisville Public Defender. And sometimes there are more efficient ways to do a lot of things in lots of other areas of people’s lives.

Like in housing and health. Which brings me to Renaissance’s newest program for people who are chronically homeless: the Flexible Housing Pool (FHP). The FHP will provide supportive housing and linkage to health services for over 700 chronically homeless Chicagoans who have been “heavy users” of Cook County Hospital and Cook County Jail for years. Their heavy use has generated huge costs to these tax payer systems and done little if anything to properly serve their needs.

Instead of having these people incorrectly dependent on systems that were never meant for how they are using them – Cook County Hospital’s ER being used in lieu of primary care and Cook County Jail being used for housing and behavioral health provision – the FHP will provide those who are stuck using these systems in these ways with proper housing and healthcare service provision.

The interdependency between housing and positive health outcomes is well documented and every healthcare and housing provider in this city knows it. Getting these two disparate systems – housing and health – together is the most efficient (and effective) approach to serving the needs of the people who are deprived of the proper provision of both, and who are subsequently dependent on Cook County Hospital and Jail for these basic needs. But getting these two systems together is not easy. They have been built to serve different masters for different reasons. So the FHP is a big deal. I think that the FHP – and more programs like the FHP that are sure to come online in the next few years – will demonstrate beyond all doubt that Housing First linked with healthcare supportive services is the solution to a set of problems that seemed unsolvable for so very many people in need. I think that the FHP will make it far easier for housing and health systems to link up in the future.

These two stories – the integration of court services with other services for people who are homeless, and Chicago’s new Flexible Housing Pool – shine a light on what it takes to really solve homelessness for people: systems integration. Both stories show what can happen for the better when seemingly unrelated systems are integrated around the specific needs of a specific group of people - in this case people who are homeless. What other problems that are causing or exacerbating homelessness could be solved through integrating seemingly unrelated systems? That’s worth figuring out. So, let’s do so! - Joe

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