Getting an Initiative Started

When we’re working towards a big goal – like, let’s say, ending youth and young adult homelessness – choosing where to start can be the most challenging step. We ask ourselves, will this first step lead to the change we want to see? Our team learned how to answer this tricky question when Community Solutions trained us on continuous quality improvement.

The concept behind continuous quality improvement is simple: If you want to improve a process, test a small change. If you see improvement, stick with it and test it on a larger scale. If you don’t see improvement, try something else. The key is to clearly define what improvement means and to start with small changes that are easy to implement. For example, an organization with the goal of serving more young people per day could start by testing a new version of their intake questionnaire and measuring the impact this has on their results.

Our expert paper plane engineers

To help us really grasp the concept, Community Solutions gave us an assignment: Make a paper plane and measure how far it flies. Then, make small changes to the plane design with the goal of flying it farther. With our limited knowledge of physics and the laws of aerodynamics, we set out to fly a paper plane farther than any nonprofit ever has before! We’re not sure if we set any records, but we did learn some important lessons about testing changes and measuring impact:

  1. Test one change at a time. We decided that the smaller and lighter a plane, the farther it must fly. So, we cut slits in the plane’s wings and we cut the plane shorter. It was…unsuccessful. And we realized that by testing two changes at once, we couldn’t tell which of these changes was the culprit. Similarly, if an organization tries changing their intake questionnaire AND making it available online at the same time, it would be hard to tell which change impacted results.
  2. Some changes are hard to undo. Once we cut a third of our plane off, there was no going back. If we wanted a full-size plane again, we had to start over. Before testing a change, organizations must consider whether it’s possible to go back on it if it doesn’t lead to improvement.
  3. The importance of iterating. We realized that drastic changes were delaying our process since we had to start over if they didn’t work. We shifted our focus to small, incremental changes. Let’s say that changing the intake questionnaire did help the organization serve more young people per day. Then, making the questionnaire accessible through other channels, like the organization’s website, can be a second, separate change to test.

With continuous quality improvement, choosing where to start becomes less intimidating. It helps us realize that our first step is simply one of many possibilities that we can test. If it leads to results, that’s wonderful! We can continue down that path. But if it doesn’t? That just means it’s time to try something new.

Anchor Communities Receive $4 Million

During the 2019 legislative session, we were overjoyed that the Office of Homeless Youth (OHY) budget included $4 million for the Anchor Community Initiative. Over the past few months, organizations in the Anchor Communities submitted proposals to OHY requesting funding for services in the community. Here’s how these funds will make an impact in each community:

Pierce County

Pierce County will be able to expand their existing outreach team, creating a 24/7 emergency hotline, training staff in diversion and gaining access to coordinated entry. The community will also be able to establish a young adult shelter, which previously had no permanent location.

Spokane

The City of Spokane and Volunteers of America will expand street outreach and create a shelter for young adults ages 18-24 in Spokane and surrounding rural communities. New outreach capabilities will allow schools and behavioral health treatment providers more quickly and efficiently identify youth and young adults experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. A new 24/7 young adult shelter with coordinated entry assessments on-site adds 30 beds for young adults ages 18-24 of any gender.

Walla Walla

Previously, young people in Walla Walla had access to HOPE beds through Catholic Charities and young adult long-term housing through Blue Mountain Action Council (BMAC). Now BMAC will be able to add housing capacity for young adults and create an outreach team to better connect with young people.

Yakima

New funding will allow Rod’s House to open a shelter and increase outreach coverage and drop-in services. Catholic Charities will be able to increase young adult housing and Yakima Neighborhood Health Services will increase LGBTQ+ support services.

We’re excited to see these funds building capacity in Anchor Communities as we continue our work to end youth and young adult homelessness!

Bringing All Systems Together

One of the most important features of a quality By-Name List is making sure it includes ALL unaccompanied youth and young adults experiencing homelessness. Not only does the list tell us how many young people are experiencing homelessness in the community, it also gives us important information about each individual young person, like their location and how long they have been experiencing homelessness.

Creating a comprehensive By-Name List takes a lot of teamwork. No one organization interacts with every young person in need, so the entire community needs to work together to make sure the list is comprehensive. Local school districts, child welfare and juvenile justice systems are key players in reaching quality, real-time data. All Anchor Community teams have been working hard to establish data sharing protocols across different systems, and we caught up with Walla Walla to hear more about the challenges they’ve found and solutions they’re testing to overcome barriers.

“We’re seeing a real need for agencies to adopt their own policies that really connect young people to the By-Name List and the homeless crisis response system,” said Sierra Knutson, Homeless & Housing Coordinator at Walla Walla County Dept. of Community Health and part of the Anchor Community team. “Staff are working really hard every day to serve young people, so it can be difficult to add another task to their long list of responsibilities.”

Aside from finding ways to incorporate the By-Name List into multiple agencies’ work, concerns over data security and privacy are another challenge faced by communities. They’ve heard from young people that keeping their information private is important.

“Young people are afraid that being on the By-Name List means they’ll be reported to the authorities,” said Sierra. “Given our community’s history of placing youth in detention to keep them off the streets, I understand their concern. We’re working on rebuilding that trust.”

When Anchor Communities committed to ending youth and young adult homelessness in their community by 2022, they committed to facing these challenges head on. Walla Walla is no exception, and the community is testing different solutions to overcome these obstacles. To start, they developed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will allow any organization that signs on to participate in the By-Name List. The community has obtained signatures from about half of the organizations in their work group, and while the rest wait for approvals the Anchor Community team is wasting no time testing other solutions.

Walla Walla’s new Program Coordinator, Sam!

“We now have the opportunity to add capacity to our team, and I’m hopeful that our new Program Coordinator, Samantha, will be able to really dig deeper into ways that we can collaborate across systems,” said Sierra. “We’re also eager to learn from other organizations in the community, so we will begin shadowing Supportive Services for Veteran Families case managers to build on their best practices for case conferencing.”

It’s inspiring to see all Anchor Communities thinking creatively and working unrelentingly to overcome challenges. We deeply appreciate all the work they do to end youth and young adult homelessness in our state!

Behind the Scenes: Coaching Anchor Communities

Every day, the Anchor Community Initiative is working towards a singular goal – preventing and ending youth and young adult homelessness in four communities by the end of 2022. In our Behind the Scenes series, we give you a sneak peek into the Anchor Communities’ work. Last month, we explained why quality, real-time data matters. Today, our Project Director, Elysa, explains how coaching helps communities reach this and all milestones.

Our Anchor Communities are hard at work creating quality By-Name Lists – you may remember this means the list is reliable, regularly updated and includes ALL unaccompanied youth and young adults experiencing homelessness by name or unique identifier. It’s no easy feat, so all Anchor Communities receive special support to do this work: Coaching.

The Anchor Community Initiative is based on a proven model that has helped twelve communities end veteran and chronic homelessness, Community Solutions’ Built for Zero model. As part of this model, coaches guide communities through the process of achieving quality data and reducing and ending youth and young adult homelessness. Their support is tailored to each community’s specific strengths, challenges and needs. We’ve adopted Built for Zero’s coaching best practices, like helping communities set goals and milestones, meeting with each community in person once a month and connecting teams to subject matter experts as needed. Effective coaches also know that celebrating their teams’ accomplishments and highlighting their progress are really important to keep teams motivated.

Reach a milestone, win a mystery gift – like Sierra in Walla Walla!

 

So how are coaches helping Anchor Community teams build their quality By-Name Lists? Each month, teams take a self-assessment called the Youth and Young Adult (YYA) By-Name List Scorecard, which consists of 43 yes-or-no questions. When teams are able to confidently answer yes to 41 of these questions, they’ve achieved a quality By-Name List. To get started, coaches helped teams bring the right people to the table to answer the scorecard questions.

The scorecard covers the different components of quality data

 

Once teams take the scorecard, they identify focus areas for improvement. Coaches bring forth tools and resources that help teams establish and work towards goals, and they help teams lead effective meetings through the principles of results-based facilitation. For example, the Spokane team chose to work on outreach coverage. They formed a workgroup called the “Outreach Huddle” and used an outreach mapping tool to work on this topic. The workgroup mapped and documented Spokane’s outreach strategy and developed a plan to involve youth and young adults in developing and conducting outreach. Through these activities, Spokane became the first community to confidently say that 100% of their county geography is covered by a documented outreach strategy.

In some ways, an Anchor Community coach  is like a sports team coach. Coaches keep their teams motivated to do the work it takes to succeed. They challenge their teams to push themselves and try new things. And they guide their teams to victory. For our Anchor Community teams, the work is achieving quality, real-time data and testing reduction strategies. Trying new things means pushing against the status quo and changing the ways systems serve young people. Victory means ending youth and young adult homelessness.

Behind the Scenes: Why Quality Data Matters

Every day, the Anchor Community Initiative is working towards a singular goal – preventing and ending youth and young adult homelessness in four communities by the end of 2022. In our Behind the Scenes series, we give you a sneak peek into the Anchor Communities’ work. Today, our Data Manger, Liz, takes us into the world of quality data.

From the moment we launched the Anchor Community Initiative, we’ve known that preventing and ending youth and young adult homelessness is a big job. Each of the Anchor Communities is committed to using a tried and true model, Community Solutions’ Built for Zero, to make it across the finish line.

Communities around the country have ended veteran and chronic homelessness by following the Built for Zero model, and it all starts with achieving quality, real-time data. The reason is simple: to quickly house and support youth and young adults experiencing homelessness, communities need to know how many young people are experiencing homelessness, who they are and what their needs are. Only once communities have access to this real-time information can they truly measure the effectiveness of their reduction strategies and know whether these strategies are reducing disproportionality for populations overrepresented in the data.

To achieve quality, real-time data, communities create a By-Name List – essentially a list of all unaccompanied youth and young adults experiencing homelessness in the community. The data in a quality By-Name List is:

  • Full coverage. The By-Name List includes ALL unaccompanied youth and young adults between the ages of 12-24 experiencing homelessness, including those who are unsheltered, in time-limited housing and doubled-up/couch surfing. For this to be true, the community must have a documented outreach strategy that covers 100% of their geography and effective data-sharing protocols with all agencies and programs in the community.
  • Reliable. The number of unaccompanied youth and young adults experiencing homelessness fluctuates as young people enter and exit the system. Reliable data balances like a checkbook – the community’s actively homeless number accurately captures any entry to or exit from the system.
  • Regularly updated. A By-Name List should allow communities to accurately report the number of unaccompanied youth and young adults experiencing homelessness at any given time. The By-Name List should be updated monthly at a minimum to truly provide real-time information.
  • Person-level. A By-Name List not only provides the number of unaccompanied youth and young adults, it includes a name or unique identifier for every person on the list. Each row of the list is an actual youth or young adult experiencing homelessness, including information like the person’s name, demographics, history and housing needs. This person-level data ensures that no youth or young adults fall through the cracks since communities can follow young people through the system.

While quality, real-time data may sound like a very technical concept at first, most of us have experience looking at it to make decisions in our daily lives. For example, when we make financial decisions, we may look at bank statements that show every time money moves in or out of our account. We wouldn’t look at a year-old bank statement to make a decision because it would not be an accurate portrayal of our current financial situation. In the same way, data about youth and young adult homelessness changes over time, so we cannot rely on static, yearly estimates to make decisions about how to best serve young people. Instead, we need data that portrays a full picture of the current situation at any given time.

We owe it to our young people to know the REAL number of unaccompanied youth and young adults who are experiencing homelessness at any given moment. Once communities achieve quality, real-time data, they can advocate for appropriate levels of prevention, diversion and long-term housing resources to build and sustain a “Yes to Yes” system that is ready to respond anytime a young person needs help.

Community Spotlight: Meaningful Youth and Young Adult Engagement in Spokane

Youth and young adult (YYA) engagement is crucial to ending YYA homelessness. That is why our Anchor Community Initiative requires that two young people with lived experience participate in each community’s Core Team – and Spokane has met this milestone! We spoke to Jess Ausborn and Luke Grayson from the Spokane team to hear how they’ve worked towards this goal.

Luke (left) and Jess (right)

Jess works at The Mockingbird Society and leads the Spokane Youth Advisory Board (YAB), and Luke is a young person who participates in the Spokane Core Team. Jess has been really happy to see the same youth and young adults attend meetings, and Luke has appreciated how team members have stepped up as allies for the young people on the team.

“Being an ally means treating young people as equals and using your voice to stand up for us,” Luke said. “If someone calls us kids or uses the wrong pronouns, correct them.”

For Jess, achieving meaningful YYA engagement comes down to building relationships. They’ve found that simple (but important) gestures like learning young people’s pronouns can go a long way, and that including young people in decision-making helps them feel heard and invested in the process. Like a true ally, Jess insists that others take the same care when interacting with young people.

“I am humbled every day that I’m allowed into the personal lives of the young people I serve,” Jess said. “It is awesome to see their confidence grow and to see them speak up in meetings.”

Building meaningful and authentic relationships with YYA takes time and commitment. Jess and Luke have three guiding principles for teams and organizations that are just getting started on this journey:

  1. Respect: Be mindful of your actions and demeanor when interacting with young people. Pay attention when young people speak and be thoughtful about your contributions to the discussion.
  2. Accountability: Mistakes happen. If we realize we’ve done something wrong or someone points out we’ve made a mistake – like using the wrong pronoun – we simply need to apologize and make a conscious effort to avoid the same mistake in the future.
  3. Empathy: For YYA with lived experience, life circumstances can further complicate the difficult times we all go through as young people. Be understanding when these difficulties impact how young people show up in the room and create spaces where young people feel comfortable bringing their whole selves. Young people with lived experience and young people of color may feel that they need to monitor themselves to keep from coming off as “loud” or “angry.”

Including young people with lived experience in our teams is essential to arriving at effective solutions. Young people who have experienced homelessness are uniquely qualified to speak on what young people need. As our teams work towards achieving quality, real-time data, young people’s input is crucial when it comes to shaping outreach, evaluating ease of access to systems of care and approaching YYA in a culturally appropriate way.

Becoming a national model

By Jim Theofelis
Executive Director, A Way Home Washington

Washington state is in a unique position to be the first state to reach functional zero toward ending youth and young adult homelessness.

In Washington we call this “Yes to Yes.” When young people say “Yes, I want safe housing and a path forward,” local communities across Washington will be able to say in return, “Yes, come inside!”

Washington has worked hard to be in this position and we are proud to have such incredible service providers who work tirelessly every day supporting youth to exit homelessness. We also are proud of our lawmakers and the Governor’s office who are advancing public policy and budgets that support positive change and stay true to the state commitment that these young people in crisis are “our” youth not “those” youth.  Most importantly we have a strong history of engaging those with lived experience at the table as leaders and subject experts.

During the last legislative session, we saw the passing of SB 6560, which states: “…by December 31, 2020, no unaccompanied youth is discharged from a publicly funded system of care into homelessness.”

This remarkable policy goal is aligned with the full expansion of the Extended Foster Care program, which also was passed during the most recent legislative session. Extended foster care ensures that the child welfare system has a program to ensure no young people age out of foster care into homelessness. Many of us also are still hoping to see Congress extend the age of extended foster care to 24 to align more with the developmental stage of young adulthood.

We are fortunate to have the Office of Homeless Youth, one of the first offices of its kind in any state, and the leadership of Kim Justice. The OHY is critical in bringing all the different conversations together in one place, managing the many different funding streams and setting a high standard of quality care by implementing performance-based contracts. Washington is the only state with an OHY and an organization like A Way Home Washington.

We also have tremendous philanthropic support and partners willing to step up and help. They see that now is the time for big change and are willing to support those changes.

All this combined makes our state poised to become a national model for ending youth and young adult homelessness.

The Anchor Community Initiative (ACI) will be a huge part of this model. The ultimate vision is for 12-15 communities to engage in a collective impact type effort to build the “Yes to Yes” system across our state.  We have secured funding to launch the first cohort of four communities in September 2018.

We are gearing up to select the first four communities that will end youth and young adult homelessness by 2022.

While the first four communities will be important, those waiting for the next cohort will be just as crucial. For our ACI model to work, we will need all the potential communities to work together, learn from each other and be supportive of each other — just what Washington does best!

The communities that are not selected initially will still be critical partners as we are set for cohort two to launch in mid-2019.

We are committed to ending homelessness by looking at many different models, listening to local communities and young people with lived experience and exporting all the knowledge we gain across the state for collective benefit.

There will always be a family or a young person in crisis. The experience of trauma, mental illness and/or addiction is powerful and not easily overcome. For those young people who are saying “Yes, I want support,” Washington state and our local communities can be the beacon of hope that offers them a strong and resounding “Yes” in return.  At least that is our plan in Washington state!  “Yes to Yes!”

Together we are in a prime position to change the future for our young people.

When a plan comes together

By Jim Theofelis
Executive Director, A Way Home Washington

July is shaping up to be one of the biggest months in A Way Home Washington’s brief history. Our team is coming together, and we are pleased to announce the hiring of Elysa Hovard, Anchor Community project director, and Megan Huckaby, communications manager.

Elysa spent the last nine years working with homeless youth, young adults and their families with Cocoon House in Snohomish County. She started her career on the front lines in direct service, eventually obtaining roles in senior management. She will work alongside the entire Anchor Community team to provide the first four communities the support they need to build a “Yes to Yes” system.

“The Anchor Community Initiative is a revolutionary model and I am thrilled to be working to move this campaign forward so that no youth or young adult has to experience homelessness,” she said.

Megan comes to us from a background in newspapers and higher education communications. Before moving to Seattle, she worked as a communication specialist for Purdue University in Indiana. Megan will lead our public relations and media campaign for the Anchor Community Initiative, as well as maintain A Way Home Washington’s social media channels and website.

“I am excited to be working with A Way Home Washington and am looking forward to all that we can accomplish through the Anchor Community Initiative,” she said.

Elysa and Megan are key leaders on our Team and I look forward to working with both on the Anchor Communities. We are in the process of hiring a Data Manager and a Lead Coach and our Anchor Community Team will be complete.

Speaking of the Anchor Community Initiative, we sent out our request for proposals on July 9! The ball is officially rolling, and we look forward to receiving applications from communities that want to be part of the first cohort of four.

If you are interested in applying to be an Anchor Community, or you would like to know more about A Way Home Washington, follow the links below:

In partnership with the Office of Homeless Youth, local communities, service providers, philanthropy and those with “lived experience” we are building a “Yes to Yes” system in Washington state. When young people say “Yes” I want to come inside, local communities have the resources, capacity and resolve to say “Yes, come inside for safe housing and a path forward.” We believe our work will be a national model for other states to prevent and end youth and young adult homelessness. Young people and those who love them are depending on us.