In the business world, it’s important not to lose sight of your intended audience. Products are reviewed in focus groups, tested for quality control, and marketed to consumers in the hopes that Product X will be the “next big thing”. The free market is the ultimate litmus test of whether a product or business will be successful. In the nonprofit world of direct services, success is not quite so cut and dried. Since most clients pay little or nothing for the services that they receive, agencies must demonstrate their success through fiscal and programmatic reporting to their funders in the public and private sectors. In the nonprofit world, we tend to think that positive outcomes are a true indicator of success. But that begs the question, are clients actually happy with the agency and the manner in which services are delivered? Can an agency really be successful if outcomes are good but the clients themselves are not satisfied?
Many direct service nonprofits, Genesis Home included, make a concerted effort to include former clients on their staff or board in an effort to internalize the perspective of those that they serve. While it can be a challenge to keep our families happy, I have always been a firm believer that the best way to address client needs is to ask directly what is needed. This feedback loop ensures that services are effective and if this is the case, the outcomes are sure to follow.
The challenge of ensuring that services are client-friendly is magnified when the issue is elevated to the community level. Over the last eight months, family housing providers including Genesis Home, Urban Ministries of Durham, Durham Interfaith Hospitality Network, Housing for New Hope, Durham Crisis Response Center, The Durham Center and Durham County Department of Social Services (DSS) have been working together to create a coordinated intake system for homeless families and those families at-risk of becoming homeless. At the risk of sounding cavalier, the current system for families trying to access emergency and transitional shelter could probably be described as “uncoordinated”. Parents typically call a laundry list of agencies that provide temporary housing to inquire about availability and to sign up for interviews if space is available. This process is repeated, sometimes for weeks, until the family finds a program with an opening. As you can imagine, this is not an efficient or client-friendly system.
Coordinated intake directs all inquiries for services and housing to an intake worker housed at Durham County DSS. The intake worker, either by phone or in person, collects basic information about the household and completes a barrier assessment to determine the most appropriate resource or program for the family. Low barrier families are referred to emergency shelter, Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing while medium and high barrier families are directed to transitional shelter and permanent supportive housing programs. The intake worker stays in daily contact with local agencies to determine if openings are available and if prior referrals were successful. It’s a system that requires communication, collaboration, and attention to detail but it is a vast improvement over the status quo and will be a much better option for families in need.
For those brave souls that actually read these articles, I hope that you may be detecting a trend. Circles of Support, affordable housing advocacy, and now Coordinated Intake are all real-world examples of how local agencies are working together to address client needs. Now if we could only get Congress to follow our lead! Our biggest challenge now is getting the word out. If you are aware of a family that may be in need of shelter of services, please call Coordinated Intake Worker Sabrina Seymore at 919-560-8014. Thank you for making our families a priority. Together we can end family homelessness in Durham.
Ryan J. Fehrman