What is a Continuum of Care?
Definition: "The Continuum of Care (CoC) Program is designed to promote communitywide commitment to the goal of ending homelessness; provide funding for efforts by nonprofit providers, and State and local governments to quickly rehouse homeless individuals and families while minimizing the trauma and dislocation caused to homeless individuals, families, and communities by homelessness; promote access to and effect utilization of mainstream programs by homeless individuals and families; and optimize self-sufficiency among individuals and families experiencing homelessness." - HUD
There are CoCs in all different areas across the US. The local CoC that covers the Long Island area is the NY-603 CoC, and is a group responsible to come together to best address homelessness in Suffolk County and Nassau.
Roles within a CoC:
Governance and Policy-Making:
In every CoC, there is a Governance Board structure in place that reviews local data, trends and feedback; determines the greatest unmet needs; determines strategies and policies to best respond to challenges; and responds to change needs such as the need to adapt services, shelters, and protocols during COVID-19. On Long Island, there is an open nomination process to be a representative on the CoC Governance Board, with a focus on including key stakeholders and those that have a strong understanding of homelessness, either through lived experience or by directly supporting those experiencing homelessness. As with all committees and groups that are part of the CoC, diversity, equity and inclusion is a core focus.
For each CoC, there is an annual funding round, where HUD has a specific funding allocation, this is called the annual renewal demand. So for Long Island, there are different housing programs that are currently operating with funds from that allocation, which has to be re-applied for and renewed each year. This is currently about $16 million for Long Island. The programs that receive CoC funds to address local needs can only be certain types of programs. Specifically, HUD allows non-profits to apply to operate permanent supportive housing and rapid rehousing rental assistance programs with CoC dollars. The CoC establishes practice standards and best practices, and all CoC-funded programs are monitored and have measured outcomes that objectively determine how successfully each program is operating and which are making the most/least regional impact on homelessness (local Ranking). Depending on the federal budget and how well each community is making progress toward decreasing homelessness, additional funds may also become available to apply for (bonus funds). The majority of funds each year are renewals, or existing permanent housing programs that are applying to continue operating and housing the people currently in their programs. Any new funding could be used to create for capacity by creating new permanent programs or expand existing permanent programs so that more people can be served. A common misconception when people hear a dollar amount that is made available each year, they understand that to be new capacity each year. New capacity is only created when existing programs either close, money is reallocated, or new money is made available in the federal budget that locally we apply for and are awarded.
Each CoC has one designated Collaborative Applicant. The Collaborative Applicant is responsible to submit a regional funding application on behalf of the CoC. This application that looks at overall regional performance and data (things like did homelessness increase or decrease and how long does the average person experience homelessness), local strategies and plans, steps towards creating a more equitable system, ability to partner with other resources, and addressing population-specific needs, such as responding to Veteran, family, or youth homelessness. Over the past few years, LICH, in the role of Collaborative Applicant, has helped Long Island receive about $3 million in additional funding that was then used create and expanded permanent supportive housing programs and rapid rehousing rental assistance programs for victims of domestic violence and youth. Permanent supportive housing programs for single adults and families that are chronically homeless (homeless one year or longer and permanent disabled) continues to be the greatest local need.
ESG Annual Funding: HUD allocates a separate pot of money for emergency use (Emergency Solutions Grant) for things like shelters, street outreach and homeless prevention. ESG providers also have established best practices that are aligned with the CoC standards. These funds are distributed by HUD to local jurisdictions that then determine how to spend that money, based on regional needs and localized feedback. Nassau County, Town of Brookhaven, Town of Islip, and Suffolk County receive allocations. Nassau County historically has used most of their funding for emergency shelter and homeless prevention. Nassau has more recently funded street outreach and rapid rehousing, in addition to shelters and homeless prevention. Town of Brookhaven has historically funded shelters and homeless prevention, but has more recently also funded rapid rehousing and street outreach. Town of Islip historically funds shelter, prevention and rapid rehousing. Despite a large street homeless population within that area, street outreach has never been funded in Islip.
Coordinated Entry and Housing First:
HUD requires that all CoC and ESG-funded programs are part of the Coordinated Entry System. Coordinated Entry is a process that is created locally to make sure that anyone experiencing homelessness can be identified, outreached, assessed for housing needs, informed about resources, and prioritized and referred to housing programs based on those that are homeless longest with the greatest barriers to exiting homelessness on their own. LICH acts as the assess points for all people living on the street and in shelter. LICH has street outreach teams that regularly search for and engage people living outside and offer services and ongoing support. LICH has housing navigators that provide housing focused case management to people that are in shelters the longest (over one year). The Safe Center LI acts as the assess point for all households that are actively fleeing domestic violence and have nowhere to go and no other resources. Hope For Youth has applied for additional funds through the CoC to become the local assess point for unaccompanied youth that are on the street or in shelter.
Housing First is an evidence based practice that removes barriers to being able to enter housing programs and does not first require that people become sober, increase their income, agree to participate in all services available, etc. This is because it is shown time and time again that those that are most in need of housing cannot access housing that has such requirements and remains homeless as a result. We see this locally, with housing programs that do not use a Housing First approach and have strict eligibility criteria and have the ability to screen households out. Many households that experience chronic homelessness on Long Island have tried to access permanent housing that is not Housing First and were denied, and remained homeless as a result. Housing First is an approach required for all CoC-funded housing programs. Chronic homelessness, in part, exists on Long Island because of other local systems that in practice, screen people out versus screening people in.
Homeless Reporting and HMIS:
Each CoC is also responsible to submit very detailed and robust reports on who is experiencing homelessness in their area, their demographics, disabilities, household type, examining racial equity, who is most likely to become homeless, who is most likely to remain homeless longest, who is exiting homelessness successfully and how are they are doing it, etc. On Long Island there are significant racial disparities in both who ends up becoming homeless and who remains homeless longest. Systemic racism and housing discrimination are leading factors of homelessness on Long Island. HMIS, or the Homeless Management Information System, is a database used to capture all people that are in shelter and on the street being engaged by a street outreach team. This is used to understand needs, outreach those homeless longest, measure success overtime, and provide a lot of information about what is happening locally. LICH is in the role of both submitting these types of detailed reports and administering the HMIS.
Committees and Working Group:
Much of the coordinated efforts to address homelessness come from the work of local focused committees and action groups that are focused on specific aspects of the homeless system, such as Veteran homelessness, street homelessness, race equity, domestic violence, youth homelessness, etc. In 2016, as a result of a large influx of resources made available by the federal government and coordinated team efforts through a local "Priority 1" Veteran Committee, Long Island was recognized in 2016 as having effectively ending Veteran homelessness- meaning that although there are still Veterans that experience homelessness, it is a very small number (less than 3% of the overall local homeless population) and that there are resources in place to quickly prevent Veterans from become homeless, provide immediate shelter when Veterans do become homeless, and quickly connect them to permanent housing options to exit homelessness. Historically on Long Island, it has been challenge to increase participation within working groups unless it is required, and/or there is funding attached to it.
Being Viewed as "Government" or a closed group:
One of the challenges locally is that some community members, particularly those that are not aware of the work of the CoC, or have not seen direct results of that work for themselves or others, believe that the CoC is somehow part of the government or part of exclusive group that gets all the funding. By design, the CoC is a group of local representatives that make local decisions about what is best for the people in the community. Although HUD has general rules about the types of programs that can be funded or has regulations related to using funds and operations, the decisions about how that many is used, what are the priorities, and working together to create better outcomes and as a result obtain more funds for that area, are all driven at a local level, by community members. Participation with the CoC is open to anyone, does not cost anything, and is an important way to voice concerns and provide feedback that is being encouraged. The reality is that CoC funds are actually hard to spend locally. There are very few new applicants for funding when it does become available. On Long Island, most groups/agencies/non-profits have programs that focus around the distribution of food or other essentials, and most non-profits that operate shelter do not operate any permanent housing programs. Any additional funds are not only available, we have a hard time utilizing any new funds because non-profits are not applying.
The number one goal of the CoC is do the best we can with scarce resources for the community we serve, in a way that is equitable, and have as few people as possible become homeless, or when they do, quickly get them back into housing, and remain housed. We are local people not people in DC, and we are thinking of our local people, not looking at numbers from a distance. We know that the solution to homelessness is permanent housing. When there are significantly more shelter programs than permanent housing programs on Long Island however, people will remain homeless longer and have a harder time getting out of shelter with limited housing options and ongoing discrimination against people of color, people with disabilities, and general stigmatization around anyone connected to a social service safety net support, such as DSS.
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