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The Housing Placement Bootcamp as Explained by Alisa Orduna

On my very first day at the United Way, I participated in a conference call with Common Ground’s 100K Homes Campaign regarding a Registry Week Boot Camp. As I was leaving Philadelphia to transition back to L.A., many of my colleagues in the homeless field were talking about an up-coming Registry, but I had no idea what they were talking about and having mentally check-out, I did not ask any further questions. Now in L.A., who knew that I would be spending my first weekend at the Registry Week Boot Camp and getting up at 4:00 AM the following Monday to participate in the City of Glendale’s Registry Week.

Six weeks later, well versed in Common Ground’s approach to mobilizing communities, I found myself participating in another Boot Camp conference call about streamlining the local VASH program. VASH is a federal program that partners VA Medical Centers with local public housing authorities to combine supportive services and housing for homeless veterans, many of whom are chronically homeless.

The bootcamp was held over a day and a half, June 15 (my birthday-boy do I love this job) and June 16, 2011 at the Center for Healthy Communities in the California Endowment’s campus. Close to 70 front line and management staff from the local housing authorities, the Los Angeles and Long Beach VA Medical Centers, and non-profit outreach providers attended. Facilitated by Boston based Institute for Healthcare Improvement, workshop guidelines were established that crated a safe environment that allowed participants to push away from planning within the status quo toward thinking about what it would take to create an ideal system.

Participants were divided into geographic teams with representation from each agency and were led by expert faculty members brought in from across the country, who had made significant VASH changes in their home communities. “Floating” experts such as Flora Gil Krisiloff from Supervisor Yaroslavsky’s Office and Ann Shahan, the Regional 4 Coordinator for HUD-VASH were on hand to provide “life-lines” to help shatter myths about what are federal requirements verse local practices. The room ignited with excitement every time Ann rang the bell to announce an up-date from HUD or the VA in D.C. regarding clarity around a procedural step.

Not sure what to expect, we the hosts, stood back in amazement half-way through the first day at the level of positive exchange that was happening. Participants took great risk on behalf of their agencies to eliminate steps or compromise on sharing documentation to help reduce the length of time and agony that a veteran applying for housing had to go through. The Housing Placement Board Game created by Agviniga Design with input from United Way’s Ana Martinez and the L.A. Office Common Ground staff, was a great focal point that built strong team identity and broke-down past barriers that had prevented the formation of positive working relationships.

By the end of the workshop the process from application to housing placement was reduced from an average of 47 loosely coordinated steps in 168 days to an average of 23 steps in 38 days. Amazing!

In addition, staff that joined their organizations to make a difference were re-energized and re-affirmed that their voice does make a difference. Inspired by their courage throughout the 2-day process, United Way is taking the lead in implementing a community-wide policy agenda to engage high-level stakeholders so that the best ideas expressed at the event will be implemented; brining our Veterans home for good.

Please stay tune for up-dates on our progress!

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