The regional network has helped the South Shore Region to foster greater collaboration among its family shelter providers and to promote a coordinated regional strategy for addressing and reducing family homelessness.
One year ago, regional coordination was a fledgling idea. The five family shelter providers had met to encourage better coordination. The intent was to create an ongoing networking group. However there was no lead agency to organize these meetings and to help with follow-through as tasks emerged. With the formation of the South Shore Network, the region now had a regional network coordinator to assist with organizing these meetings and with ongoing staff support.
Within a few months all community partners in the region engaged in diversion, shelter, and rapid re-housing of families were meeting regularly to collaborate and to strategize about better regional approaches. From a handful of family shelter providers the committee had grown to 20-25 community partners from non profits and state government.
For years, providers in this region had called for ways to "keep families local" when they entered shelter and to ensure for "right shelter placement." These goals were at the center of Plymouth County's 10-Year Plan on Family Homelessness. The regional network offered a way for these goals to be advanced. Within a short period of time the committee had put together a family shelter triage plan. It negotiated with DHCD and became the first region in the state to win approval for local control of shelter placements.
The model was launched on January 11, 2010. The United Way of Greater Plymouth, the regional network convener, serves as the neutral convener of the family shelter providers. The network coordinator, as United Way staff, helped lead the region's negotiations with DHCD. This role would have been more difficult for one of the provider agencies to play given they are DHCD shelter vendors.
With the launch of the South Shore Triage Model, families entering the shelter system are placed by DHCD in local motels. The local triage staff then meets with the families within days to match families to the right shelter setting for their needs. The triage coordinator arranges for shelter placement or for rapid rehousing directly from the motels. Keeping families local and better matched to the shelter placement that meets their needs based on geography, children's schools, parents' employment, and other concerns has been better for families and has allowed for shorter shelter stays and more rapid movement to housing.
Father Bill's & MainSpring (FBMS) serves as the lead triage agency with two staff designated full-time to triage who conduct family assessments and arrange for shelter placements. FBMS has repurposed part of its EA family shelter contract in order to fund the triage team. While the ICHH pilot doesn't fund family triage directly, the ICHH-funded network coordinator has helped to facilitate triage implementation.
Regional coordination has also helped with the rapid matching of homeless families to flex funds for rehousing. Within the first five months of triage, 118 families moved to housing: 86% with some form of flexible funds. Most families moved from shelter, but 20 moved directly from the motels. Strong coordination among the partners allowed for rapid dissemination of HPRP funds to aid with rehousing. In just two months, nearly all HPRP family rehousing funds available to the region, from the state, Brockton, and Quincy, was used to end homelessness of 85 families. The remaining families rehoused with flexible funds received EA or ICHH resources.
Without the regional network structure it would have been very hard to advance this triage plan.
There wouldn't have been staffing to move it forward and it would have fallen to the region's largest shelter provider to play the lead role. The network offers a way for all the stakeholders to work together, whether to advance a triage plan or to continue to collaborate on other strategies to prevent, address, and reduce homelessness.