This month’s Spotlighted Grantee, Richmond Area Collaborative to End Chronic Homelessness (RACECH), epitomizes the power and synergy of partnerships. The RACECH project is coordinated by Virginia Supportive Housing (VSH), a Cooperative Agreements to Benefit Homeless Individuals (CABHI TI023478) and Services in Supportive Housing (SSH) provider in Richmond, Virginia. The program is a community-wide collaboration of a dozen non-profits and government agencies (local, state, and federal level) to identify, engage, house and serve vulnerable individuals experiencing chronic homelessness in the Richmond region.
In the Fall of 2011, Virginia Supportive Housing began using CABHI funds to solidify community efforts that had begun a few months earlier with a local 100,000 Homes Campaign initiative. In the first year, VSH housed 66 of the community’s most vulnerable individuals who were experiencing chronic homelessness. As the lead agency of the Richmond Area Collaborative to End Homelessness, VSH achieved a more global, and less quantifiable, goal that first year. Working with The Daily Planet, Homeward, Richmond Behavioral Health Authority (RBHA), the Richmond Department of Social Services, and others, VSH and RACECH formalized community structures intended to identify, engage, house, and serve the most vulnerable individuals living on their streets. Creating those structural and functional enhancements to the community system consumed much of the first year.
By the end of the first grant year, however, the project’s momentum had yielded major dividends by putting in place a collaboratively developed, cohesive community-wide effort to end chronic homelessness. These coordinated systems were in place to support: 1) coordinated outreach to identify persons who are chronically homeless; 2) data collection/scoring to prioritize the most vulnerable individuals; 3) systems for tracking persons who are chronically homeless across service providers; 4) an array of permanent supportive housing options; 5) enhanced access to and integration of behavioral health and physical health care; 6) improved access to mainstream benefits; 7) workgroups/committees to collaboratively address key facets such as Enhanced Outreach, SOAR/Mainstream Benefits, Integrated Care, and Evaluation; 8) community-wide training and support; 9) data collection to measure outcomes; and 10) regular community-wide communication.
Newly created positions were filled in three different agencies, including positions “shared” across multiple organizations. The project was able to recruit a full-time psychiatrist by combining the part-time need of two organizations several miles apart: The Daily Planet, a Healthcare for the Homeless provider, and Virginia Supportive Housing. The project feels that the time that they took in the first year to lay the groundwork and build partnerships really paid off. Six months into the second year they had not only made up the “shortfall” in their first year goal, they had already exceeded their second year goal. The project continues to build on that success. In the first 22 months of the CABHI grant, Virginia Supportive Housing has permanently housed 124 chronically homeless adults, 12.7 percent more than its goal of 110 for the entire 36 months of the grant!
These efforts and the significant results have not gone unnoticed. Homeward, the planning and coordinating organization for homeless services in the greater Richmond region, awarded Virginia Supportive Housing and its partners the 2013 Snagajob Innovation in Homeless Services Provision Award in June for its role in spearheading the regional Richmond Area Collaborative to End Chronic Homelessness initiative. This award recognizes an agency that has demonstrated innovation and creativity in addressing the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness, in alignment with the goals of the Ten Year Plan. More importantly, the project has seen a dramatic 40 percent drop in the number of unsheltered adults in the City of Richmond since this grant began (point-in-time counts of July 2011 and July 2013). The project is demonstrating, in a powerful way, that they are ending homelessness by providing a permanent, proven solution that unites the elements of permanent housing, supportive services, and community-wide collaboration.
Not content to rest on their impressive laurels, the project feels that there is still room for improvement. The program’s ongoing evaluation shows that those individuals whom they have housed have an immediate and dramatic drop in both their hospital/emergency room use and arrests/incarcerations. There has also been success in assisting these individuals to secure benefits. However, the evaluation also lets the project know that many participants need a little longer to improve mental health and overcome substance abuse. With this knowledge, the project’s strong community collaborative continues to seek ways to improve those outcomes. The project is also exploring the critically important (but sometimes elusive) element of sustainability -- their goal is to sustain these successful efforts after the end of both grant terms.
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