Toward Understanding Homelessness: The 2007 National Symposium on Homelessness Research. Changing Homeless and Mainstream Service Systems: Essential Approaches to Ending Homelessness. Identified Process of System Change

09/01/2007

The process by which a community implements its shared vision will vary depending on all of the previously mentioned factors, but perhaps will be most significantly affected by the beginning state of the system (proportion of elements operating in isolation, communication, coordination, or collaboration) and the scope of the communitys vision. The process should focus on actions that will change power, money, habits, technology or skills, and ideas or values by concentrating on moving system elements from isolation to communication, from communication to coordination, and so on. These actions should be strategic and intentionally planned, though flexible enough to afford regular opportunities to revisit the course of action and redirect resources as needed.

A recent analysis by staff at the Corporation for Supportive Housing (Grieff, Proscio, & Wilkins, 2003) integrates the experiences of many communities to identify lessons learned about promoting policy reforms and developing coordinated systems of housing for long-term homeless adults with disabilities. The lessons are pertinent to all efforts at system change; they are presented linearly below, but they may occur in any order or simultaneously, and they work best if they are applied in continuing cycles of assessment and action. The Center for Mental Health Services (2003) incorporates many of the same steps in its guidance to communities on ending chronic homelessness for persons with serious mental illness. The steps are:

  • fostering collaborative planning and consensus building;
  • investing and leveraging resources;
  • coordinating, streamlining, and integrating funding;
  • building provider capacity;
  • establishing and monitoring performance, quality assurance;
  • building the case for system change through research and data;
  • communicating and advocating: finding ways to make the need for system change compelling;
  • cultivating leaders, champions, and advocates;
  • capitalizing on trigger events that compel action; and
  • designating an intermediary in the role of neutral catalyst, or coordinator.

The rest of this paper synthesizes the approaches and practices that research and our own experience working with communities indicate are promising ways to change systems for the purpose of preventing and ending homelessness.

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