Federal Role in Revitalizing Distressed Cities: Interagency Collaboration and Local Partnerships. 2.1.4 Establishing a Permanent Supportive Housing Voucher Preference for Individuals Returning from Substance Abuse Treatment and Incarceration in New Orleans

08/25/2014

In New Orleans, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and HUD team members, together expanded the existing permanent supportive housing (PSH) voucher preference to include individuals with disabilities who had been incarcerated or were returning from substance abuse treatment. The three team members from different federal agencies designed and implemented the process needed to reach the targeted populations and help them apply for the vouchers.

After Hurricane Katrina, HUD issued PSH vouchers to the state of Louisiana to support vulnerable groups. Both the city and the State Office of Community Development wanted to expand eligibility for the vouchers in New Orleans to individuals with disabilities who were returning from prison or from substance abuse treatment. While changing the eligibility guidelines for the vouchers to include these populations was not a barrier, there was a limited amount of time left in which to use them. Thus, the major challenge that the state of Louisiana faced was putting a system in place in New Orleans for identifying individuals who could benefit from the vouchers and establishing the process for signing individuals up for the vouchers quickly.

Having team members from HUD, DOJ, and HHS who were working with the city proved critical to being able to address the challenges that the state was facing in implementing this effort. Even though the state of Louisiana had started working with the city on this process, the city had limited staff capacity and was, therefore, unable to respond quickly. In addition, the city’s relationships with some of the organizations that would need to be engaged were strained. The state asked the team member from HHS to engage the team members from DOJ and HUD in the process and provide assistance.

The HHS member had worked to develop the city’s behavioral health plan while the HUD representative worked in the HUD Choice neighborhoods, which were located in high-crime areas, and the DOJ member tried to address issues related to ex-offenders. It became evident that these three team members understood the populations that were the target of the vouchers and the many organizations in the city working with the targeted population. They were able to help the state develop tangible connections to the populations it was seeking to target with the vouchers by identifying the appropriate agencies working with the targeted population and convening the appropriate stakeholders from these agencies. The team members had worked with many of these agencies in the past and were able to convince them to work with the state on this effort. According to one of the team members, “People were willing to come to the table because we were there to provide support. A lot had to do with rapport, but it also had to do with the fact that we were federal employees. They were much more inclined to come when we extended the invitation.”

The team members organized a meeting of agencies that were working with ex-offenders and individuals with mental health or substance abuse issues for the state to present how the vouchers worked and how to access them. Many in the room had been unaware of the vouchers at that time. The outcome of the convening was the designation of one person at each organization who would be trained by the state to go through the application process with clients and who would maintain the relationship with the state. The HUD team member convened two follow-up meetings.

This example of interagency collaboration highlights the ability for on-the-ground SC2 teams to collaboratively address emergent opportunities that surface while the SC2 teams are working with the city. The ability of the team members to move this effort forward quickly was directly related to being embedded in the city, having the relationships and expertise needed to ensure that the right organizations were at the table, and being seen by community partners as outside brokers with the credibility of federal agencies. The successful collaboration across agencies was also related to the informal and trusting relationships that the three team members built through being part of the SC2 team. As one member noted, “We were always able to agree on the approach. We trusted each other’s judgment.”

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