A better quality of life for each and every resident and family in Stanislaus County.
That’s the goal of Focus on Prevention, the ambitious county-wide initiative that has brought together individuals and agencies from across multiple sectors to develop coordinated, cooperative strategies to address critical issues facing communities and the county.
And some impressive things are beginning to happen.
Coordinating the overall initiative is the Stewardship Council, a group comprised of representatives of government, business, education, health, non-profits, philanthropy, faith, neighborhoods, media and arts, entertainment and sports.
To begin the journey – which is what this multi-year effort is – the Stewardship Council identified homelessness as the initial area of focus. That was a logical choice, since people who are homeless, or struggling to avoid becoming such, often are separated from strong families and communities – usually with tragic consequences.
And after first focusing on the homeless, work has now started on building the foundation for the next logical phase of Focus on Prevention – Strengthening Families, which you will hear more about in the next newsletter.
To launch the first focus, a Homelessness Action Council (HAC) was formed to develop a plan to reduce and prevent homelessness. The group met in May 2015 and began a process of mapping the current realities for the homeless and developing effective immediate and long-term strategies. Among the more than 150 individuals involved in the planning sessions were people who had been or were currently homeless, neighbors of parks impacted by homelessness and vagrancy, and homelessness services providers.
In December 2015, the HAC reached consensus and endorsed a set of priority results, indicators and strategies, which in turn was approved by the Stewardship Council as the “Common Agenda: Acting Together to Reduce and Prevent Homelessness.”
Developing a Community System of Care
Instead of isolated and interventions of the past, multiple homelessness services agencies and community partners in Stanislaus County have come together, aligning their efforts and forming partnerships that have resulted in the Homelessness Community System of Care.
This system of care in which all sectors have a role and are contributing to the desired results acknowledges that service providers and partners can accomplish much more working together rather that separately. The importance – and potential – of this alignment, shared results and learning has become crystal clear.
The system of care incorporates four core strategies:
- Outreach and Engagement: Improving community-based outreach and engagement strategies with a focus on identifying individuals who are not currently connected to services, and as trust is established, those individuals are introduced and connected to a variety of health, housing and community services and supports.
- Coordinated Access: Developing a countywide coordinated access system that integrates all public- and community-based services and community supports.
- Housing: Improving access to temporary, transitional, and permanent supportive housing.
- Supportive Services: Increasing the availability, effectiveness and alignments of homelessness services and community supports that help people escape from and stay out of homelessness.
Guided by the Common Agenda, work groups are now focused on implementing the four strategies, along with developing a map of the Homelessness Community System of Care, a visual that represents the pathway out of homelessness.
Among the accomplishments so far:
- A Multi-disciplinary Outreach and Engagement Team has been organized and has started to meet weekly to coordinate and align efforts, targeting high priority areas, and to improve working relationships with neighborhood leaders and multi-sector partners.
- Homelessness outreach training for community and neighborhood association leaders is underway, and a community-based volunteer homelessness outreach and engagement is organizing.
- Work has begun on developing a countywide Coordinated Access System (CAS) that will improve access to housing, supportive services and community supports. A standardized assessment has been selected for use at existing homelessness services program sites throughout Stanislaus County, as well as at a new centralized access center in Modesto.
- Work groups comprised of multi-sector partners are meeting with the aim of developing plans to increase access to permanent supportive housing.
The Focus on Prevention’s Homelessness Initiative is emerging into a shared community vision and foundation for ongoing transformation and culture change that will lead to tangible improvements in the lives of Stanislaus County residents and families.
In a relatively short period of time since Focus on Prevention started, it’s becoming increasingly evident that forging multi-sector partnerships, breaking down silos and focusing on results can produce dramatic improvements in how we address the major challenges facing our communities and county.