Community Collaboration to Address Homelessness

Fort Lauderdale has few visible signs of homelessness. Though homelessness continues to be an important issue for this All-America City, the city has worked to reduce homelessness through county-wide partnerships, and many of those partners gathered last month to celebrate their work together.

Collaboration is the key to Fort Lauderdale’s work on homelessness, as well as the efforts of cities around the U.S.

“There’s no way we can do this on our own,” says Homeless Intervention Administrator, Angela Blaine. Her colleague, Christopher Leonard the Community Court Coordinator adds, “partnering allows us to do the heavy lifting.”

Blaine was once homeless herself and worked in the nonprofit sector on homeless issues prior to joining the city. Fort Lauderdale has leveraged funding and partnerships to help people get back on their feet, through Community Court, Covid-19 related non-congregate shelter, and other homeless initiatives. Community Court sees over 100 people in a typical year, helping them find housing, jobs and services for challenges like mental illness and substance abuse, mostly through nonprofit providers. Key to the court’s success is not only the availability of service providers, but also the participation of residents in the court process.

Community Court was first launched in 2019, where 122 cases were filed per the Broward County Clerk of Courts. That year the program saw approximately 1,000 walk-ins for services and referral. The network helps them connect to housing opportunities, jobs and services for underlying issues such as mental health and substance abuse, mostly through nonprofit providers. During the 2020 calendar year, Covid-19 interrupted face to face court proceedings. The dedicated network of providers kept clients engaged and connected to services during this critical time. In 2021, the program is a mostly face to face full-service operation. Community Court and homeless initiatives engages with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department – Homeless Outreach Unit in all aspects of homelessness in the community.

Community-wide collaboration is cited as a key ingredient for success in cities across the country by Community Solutions, a national nonprofit that was recently featured in PM Magazine. “Individual-level interventions do not, by themselves, end homelessness at the community level,” say authors Jake Maguire and Anna Kim of Community Solutions. “For that, communities need to reorganize the way local actors work together and engage in collective problem solving.”

Maguire and Kim list four ingredients for reducing or ending homelessness:

  • An integrated, community-wide team.
  • Shared accountability for a community-wide aim.
  • Real-time, by-name data on homelessness.
  • The use of real-time data to target key resources and interventions flexibly.

Community Solutions is the recipient of a $100 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation to work on homelessness in 80 cities around the U.S. The initiative, called Built for Zero, includes six of the 20 largest cities in the country and a mix of suburban, urban, and rural areas. Already, the group says, “14 participating communities have functionally ended veteran or chronic homelessness, and 46 have driven reductions in the number of people experiencing homelessness.”

An example of effective community collaboration through the Built for Zero model is Kern County, in Southern California. The county is one of the places that has reached “functional zero” homelessness. At first, the organizers say, the county “faced all the challenges of a typical fragmented housing ecosystem, where each program had its own funders, compliance requirements, and siloed outcomes frameworks.”

Part of the Built for Zero process involves identifying homeless or nearly homeless individuals in a database and asking service providers to work together to collaboratively address their needs and help them get back on their feet. By working together and having regular meetings under one umbrella, the service providers in Kern County were able to address the needs of every homeless person identified in the county.

For more information on Ft. Lauderdale’s homeless program contact Angela Blaine at [email protected].

For more information on Built for Zero click here.

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