July 22 marked the 25th anniversary of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the only act of Congress to address the problem of homelessness on a federal level. Through McKinney-Vento, homeless service agencies are able to access funds to provide emergency shelter, social services and even permanent housing. Twenty-five years later, the National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that the number of people experiencing homelessness is declining as metropolitan areas and homeless service agencies—agencies like the Lincoln Park Community Shelter—design their programs to incorporate best practices and collaborate in city- and nation-wide initiatives responding to research findings.
At the national level, we have become a participant in the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ annual conference, fortifying the strengths-based, low-barrier and harm reduction principles already incorporated into our programming. We are poised to begin a HUD-funded permanent housing program for individuals experiencing homelessness and disability, drawing residents from a city-wide central referral system that ensures that Chicago’s most vulnerable citizens are connected to housing and the care that they need.
In the Chicago community, our staff participates in the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness, contributing to conversations about maximizing the current system and about the future design of the homeless response system and access to permanent housing to ensure that each person in our community is able to avoid or minimize their time spent homeless. This Spring, staff and Graduates were instrumental in the crafting of the city’s second comprehensive strategic plan to end homelessness, entitled “A Home for Everyone.”
We, like many around the city and country, continue to see changes in the needs of our Guests. For instance, nearly 70% have at least some college education; no longer a safety net against homelessness. The average age has been steadily increasing each year, and longer bouts of homelessness and a rise in serious health problems all add to the complexity of barriers faced by Guests. At LPCS, we continually adjust our program services and goals to meet these changing needs, and we have rigorous measures to gauge our success with Guests, community clients and Graduates.
For instance, we understand that engaging individuals and gaining their trust in our cooperative work with them is the first step toward empowering them to make life changes. Within our Community Engagement Program, almost half of all clients participate in case management, gaining intensive assessment, support, and referrals through our experienced case management staff. Within the Interim Housing Community and On Track Program, 86% of Guests who move into the IHC engage in case management, setting goals with their case manager within their first two weeks of stay. This collaborative goal-setting pays off, as 100% of Guests in substance abuse recovery engage in time-tested peer-support groups like AA and Smart Recovery, and two-thirds of Guests with significant mental or chronic physical health issues report that their health is stable or has improved since staying at LPCS.
This intensive evaluation is most evident in the work we do with Guests seeking employment. Guests are assessed for both employability and computer literacy and work with their case managers and volunteer computer tutors to address employment-and technology barriers: finding an appropriate interview outfit, creating an electronic resume, establishing an email account, or learning how to attach their resumes to email. We’re proud to report that we’re meeting or coming close to our ambitious employment goals, as more than 90% improved their employability and nearly 80% improved their computer literacy. This improvement is likewise reflected in improved employment among Guests, as almost half of those people looking for work found at least a part-time position. Graduate Romona relaxes in her new neighborhood before heading to work.
Our reliance on best practices is also seen in the percentage of individuals who attain permanent housing and that retain permanent housing. City benchmarks challenge us to house people more quickly: 30% within four months, 50% within six months, and 90% within 9 months. But, with long waiting lists for job training programs and subsidized housing, and a persistent lack of quality jobs, these timeframes have been unattainable. However, with an average stay of 6.5 months, nearly 70% of our Guests1 did move into permanent housing this year, and after two years, 64% are still housed. We believe that this success results from designing programs that follow best practices, and invest in the individuality of each Guest: harm reduction principles allow Guests who relapse to continue working with their case manager and continue living at LPCS; staff and volunteers establish a safe place to stay and work toward goals for as long as necessary to return to housing; Graduates return year after year to celebrate the holidays with their LPCS family and become volunteers doing overnight shifts, working at the front desk or donating funds to end someone else’s homelessness. We look forward to continuing and refining all of these practices—with you—in the years to come!
By: Betsy Carlson