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THHI tackles big problems with even bigger thinking

If you want to achieve big things, first you have to think big. That’s the lesson from our friends at the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative. As the Continuum of Care in Tampa-Hillsborough County, they have achieved remarkable results in their community in less than four years:

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  • Reduced the homeless vet population by 45% since 2015.
  • Reduced the overall number of people experiencing homelessness by 20% since 2015.
  • Realigned the community partners and resources to ensure that the system as a whole is working more efficiently to address the issue of homelessness.
  • Developed a Housing First/Rapid Re-Housing initiative model for Veterans, i.e. Operation: REVEILLE, which will be utilized in reducing homelessness among the other sub-populations in line with the National Strategic Plan “Opening Doors”.
  • Spearheaded a county initiative to incentivize landlords to accept homeless individuals who struggle to find housing due to credit problems or a criminal background.

“Never think that something immense is impossible. Don’t be afraid to aggressively work yourself out of a job – we want to end homelessness,” says Antonio Byrd, the Chief Operating Officer at THHI.

THHI makes big dreams happen by applying a 4-prong philosophy we can all learn from: Collaboration, Resources, Partnerships and Innovation.

1. Collaboration

THHI coordinates roughly 50 service agencies, bringing compassionate, person-centered care to a homeless population of roughly 1500. Beyond services, they work with their agencies to recruit volunteers and involve the residents of Hillsborough County.

“Homelessness is a community problem that requires a community solution,” says Sergio Santiago, the HMIS System Administrator. THHI activates their network of agencies through several vehicles, including social media. Search the organization’s #disruptingthemodel hashtag and you’ll see sheriff’s offices, women’s clubs, the Chamber of Commerce and over 4000 everyday people following THHI’s work.

Their recent Point-In-Time (PIT) count is a shining example of this collaboration. (PIT is a HUD initiative held annually across the country to count the number of people experiencing homelessness on a given day.) THHI recruited 381 volunteers for the difficult work of canvassing the community, surveying individuals about their demographics, length and cause of homelessness, vet status and more. Other volunteers entered the data.

Ashley Wynn, HMIS Manager, pointed out two key ingredients of collaboration: anticipating the challenges of any collaborative effort and solving them ahead of time.

“This is a really a data-collection event. We make sure the volunteers are well-trained – they know who to survey, they understand the questions so they can get accurate answers, and they can get the data into the database in a usable way. We offer training at various places…we do it at different times of the day…we even offer both online and in-person training.”

2. Resources

THHI uses ServicePoint to connect people, agencies and funding to bring effective, coordinated care to the community’s homeless. “We want to push the boundary of technology to increase quality of life for the people we serve,” said Byrd.

“That starts with assessments in the field, PIT count tools, and technology that makes it easy for providers to document the services our clients receive. But it’s more than that. We want to facilitate donations (not just money) and make volunteering easier.”

When seeking resources, cast a wide vison, suggests Antoinette Hayes-Triplett, Chief Executive Officer. “Everyone is a potential partner. When working with a previous CoC, the local Build-a-Bear store asked what they could do for us…and we partnered to make sure every homeless child we sheltered received a bear. That’s a big deal.”

3. Partnerships

“We take a de-centralized approach to homelessness,” Santiago said. “For our recent PIT count, our county government created the marketing materials, and our agencies and the sheriff’s office helped promote the event.”

THHI also works with insurance companies, the county health system, local providers and more. Many studies have shown that homelessness puts tremendous strains on the healthcare system. That means many people are eager to find a solution if you simply ask. Therefore, THHI is looking to collaborate with insurance companies, county health officials and the local hospitals to fund housing for high-utilizers of the healthcare system.

Antoinette explained how the county is now incentivizing landlords to take in the people experiencing homelessness. “A landlord now receives $2000 per person – for 10-15 years – when they agree to take in someone who might otherwise be refused due to credit problems or a criminal background. That’s paid upfront. So that landlord might receive $500,000, that they can immediately put toward improving their housing or buying a new building.”

(Research has found that one chronically homeless person costs taxpayers as much as $30,000 to $50,000 per year. Other initiatives Mediware has researched often involve hospitals paying as much as $10,000 to house one homeless individual per year, with very mixed results. So the approach in Hillsborough County may prove to be an incredible bargain to its citizens!)

4. Innovation

THHI takes a spirited approach to innovation. “We always want to start with best practices and turn them into next practices,” said Hayes-Triplett. For its PIT count, THHI used ServicePoint’s ReportWriter to provide real-time counts to the command center as surveys were completed. The results allowed THHI, city and county officials, and at-large members to quickly spot problems like missing data and correct the issue while the volunteer was still canvassing the area.

On odd-numbered years, HUD requires an additional PIT count of the sheltered homeless. THHI is able to generate this number with little labor since almost all of the shelters in Hillsborough County connect to THHI via ServicePoint.

The CoC takes this best practice of connecting its agencies and turns it into a next practice with Mediware’s CommunityPoint website builder for I&R. THHI’s website shows the current bed availability at each of the county’s shelters at any given time. “THHI has really taken their website to the next level by offering this information to their citizens,” says Deb Petty, Mediware account executive.

Conclusion

THHI’s 4-prong philosophy of Collaboration, Resources, Partnerships, and Innovation is yielding powerful results for residents of Hillsborough County. We’re thankful to count them as part of the Mediware family. To learn more about THHI, visit their website at www.thhi.org. If you’d like to know more about Mediware tools mentioned in this article, call us at (888) 633-4927 or request a demo.


BLOGGER’S NOTE: THHI’s Operation Reveille is a shining example of turning a best practice into a next practice. The program has been copied across the country to reduce the homeless rate among vets. Past VA Secretary Robert McDonald compared Operation Reveille to the department’s own successful housing program by calling it “Stand Down on steroids.” We’ll be covering Operation Reveille in a future Mediware resource.

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