Building a Systematic Response to the Additional Public Health Crisis of Homelessness

January 17, 2021

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FUSE Corps

The Austin Public Health Department’s newly created Homeless Services Division is working to coordinate efforts within the city and with community organizations to ensure that homeless response activities, especially for behavioral and mental health crises, are smoothly and effectively implemented. To support this work, Austin will partner with a FUSE Executive Fellow for one year to develop an integrated approach for city staff who care for those experiencing homelessness, enabling a citywide response to this public health crisis.

This fellowship project begins on April 26, 2021, and ends on April 25, 2022. The fellowship begins with a multi-day virtual orientation the week of April 26, 2021. The selected Executive Fellow will begin their first day of providing services to the host agency on May 3, 2021.

PROJECT CONTEXT

The City of Austin is focused on improving the quality of life and civic participation in the Austin community. Key to this improvement is addressing the persistent reality of homelessness that nearly 7,000 people in the Austin/Travis County area experience each year. Homeless individuals are often subjected to the elements, crime, and other maladies, including behavioral and mental health crises, often resulting in tragic consequences. Moreover, Black Austinites are disproportionately represented in the homeless population; while making up only 8% of the general population, they account for 34% of the homeless population. Homeless individuals have been amongst the most vulnerable populations during this COVID-19 pandemic. These Austinites, who already face poorer health outcomes, are dealing with the loss of access to services providing food, water, and shelter with social distancing restrictions and provider closures. While the City has developed several initiatives to keep this populations safe, they are only a temporary solution.

Prioritizing homelessness and ensuring accessible services to those experiencing homelessness are focal points of Imagine Austin, the 30-year vision for the City; Strategic Direction 2023, the guide and outline of the next three to five years to advance equitable outcomes across Austin; and Austin’s Action Plan to End homelessness, which outlines how the public and private sectors will work together to end homelessness. These plans define and enact Austin’s response to homelessness, focusing on the efficient and effective use of the City’s resources, leveraging both prevention and service delivery, to address disparities and reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness in Austin. This includes enabling staff who are working to end homelessness to have all the tools needed to succeed in their jobs, primarily through providing training on different topics and increasing supportive recovery services, mental healthcare, and other healthcare services to persons experiencing homelessness, allowing homeless individuals access to more primary healthcare and less emergency healthcare. Earlier this year, to help with these efforts, the City of Austin created the Homeless Services Division within the Austin Public Health Department. This Division is working to coordinate within the City and with community organizations and ensure homeless response activities, especially for behavioral and mental health crises, are smoothly and effectively implemented.

To further support these efforts, the City of Austin will partner with FUSE Corps to host an Executive Fellow for one year who will develop an integrated approach for City staff to care for those experiencing homelessness, specifically when responding to those experiencing mental and behavioral health crises. The Executive Fellow will conduct a comprehensive landscape assessment of City resources and trainings, research highly successful and cutting-edge trainings, and garner long term commitments to homelessness response across stakeholders. The Executive Fellow will enable the City to have a systematic response to the public health crisis of homelessness, moving to end homelessness for individuals and families and making the Austin community stronger for all.

PROJECT SUMMARY & POTENTIAL DELIVERABLES

The following provides a general overview of the proposed Executive Fellowship project. This summary and the potential deliverables will be collaboratively revisited by the host agency, the Executive Fellow, and FUSE staff during the first few months of the Executive Fellowship, after which a revised scope of work will be developed and agreed upon by the FUSE Executive Fellow and the host agency.

Starting May 3, 2021, it is proposed that the FUSE Executive Fellow will first conduct a comprehensive landscape assessment of the resources and trainings utilized by City staff caring for those experiencing homelessness, specifically when responding to those experiencing mental and behavioral health crises. The Executive Fellow will work to quickly build deep relationships with a wide range of critical stakeholders, including staff across City Departments, specifically the Library, Police, Fire, EMS, and Parks Departments; local nonprofits in the homelessness support services space, such as the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition; and community-based organizations. The Executive Fellow will compile an inventory of trainings and resources each City department utilizes; the impact, benefits, and drawbacks of each; data on the trainings; programmatic gaps and overlaps; timelines/frequency of trainings or use of resources; and costs of these services. The Executive Fellow will extensively research national best practices and highly successful and cutting-edge trainings or resources, assessing applicability locally.

With this foundation of knowledge and insights, the Executive Fellow will work with key stakeholders to develop an integrated approach to caring for those experiencing homelessness, specifically when responding to those experiencing mental and behavioral health crises. The robust framework will include specific short and long-term goals and recommendations. The Executive Fellow will identify which trainings and resources should be piloted, scaled, or tweaked; architect new processes for engaging employees in each department with these trainings and resources, and introduce techniques to integrate and sustain the programs effectively. The plan will look beyond what is happening in City departments to complement that broader homelessness strategy taken by other nonprofits and community-based organizations in Austin. The framework will also determine what metrics to capture and how to measure these outcomes.

In the next phase, the Executive Fellow will create a thorough and holistic implementation plan. The plan will establish a shared vision for the initiative, clear roles of internal and external stakeholders, and articulate timelines and milestones. The Executive Fellow will work to initiate activities that are most urgent and are considered low-hanging fruit. This will include developing action plans, per department, to garner long term commitment to homelessness response. The Executive Fellow will pilot and launch at least one new training and resource across all departments. During implementation, the Executive Fellow will set benchmarks and begin to track progress toward goals. After one year, the City will have established highly impactful and innovative response techniques for all City workers who interact with homeless individuals, substantially improving the care and safety of these individuals when they experience mental and behavioral health crises.

The following responsibilities and anticipated outcomes are expected of a FUSE Fellow during the yearlong project:

  • Conduct a thorough review of the landscape Conduct an in-depth landscape analysis, collating all relevant resources, trainings, policies, and processes of City Departments and beyond; connect with nonprofit and community-based organizations to understand the perspective of the homeless population and current care efforts by City employees who interact with homeless individuals; identify needs and gaps in current efforts; gather data on programming, reviewing at how many employees have been trained, awareness of these trainings and resources, the extent of which issues have received trainings (i.e., mental health crisis, substance abuse, cognitive impairments, trauma-informed care)
  • Research innovative techniques and best practices – Extensively research national best practices and highly successful and cutting-edge trainings and resources; identify solutions that could potentially be used by Austin, assessing applicability locally; determine costs of this programming and providers of these training or support services
  • Develop recommendations and form a comprehensive framework – Outline short and long-term goals and priority areas, in close consultation with key stakeholders; recommend which trainings and resources should be piloted, scaled, or tweaked; architect new processes for training more employees cross-departmentally, and introduce techniques to integrate new programming and make changes to current programs effectively; collate relevant data and metrics, setting benchmarks for tracking progress
  • Engage stakeholders and catalyze buy-in – Facilitate communication, information exchange, and cross-functional work around homelessness response with stakeholders; solicit feedback from major stakeholders on the strategic plan; identify barriers to implementing any recommendations; incorporate input from stakeholders to build consensus and ensure that the strategy is supported and successful
  • Develop implementation framework and support the rollout of recommendations – Develop a shared vision and goal for the plan; establish a framework with clear roles of internal and external stakeholders; oversee implementation of strategies considered most urgent; build out individual department strategies, integrating unique policies and program supports based on each department’s needs, current trainings and resources, and employee engagement; pilot at least one new training across all City departments who interact with those who are homeless and experiencing mental and behavioral health crises, leading a solicitation for these services and modeling the financial implications of that pilot

KEY STAKEHOLDERS

  • Executive Sponsor – Stephanie Hayden, Director, Austin Public Health Department
  • Diana Grey, Homeless Strategy Officer, Austin Public Health Department
  • Adrienne Sturrup, Assistant Director – Health Equity and Community Engagement Division, Austin Public Health Department
  • Kymberley Maddox, Assistant Director – Administrative Support Services, Austin Public Health Department
  • Additional Stakeholder – Austin/Travis County Health & Human Services Department
  • Additional Stakeholder – Ending Community Homelessness Coalition

QUALIFICATIONS

  • At least 15 years of professional experience in a relevant field; experience in social work, mental health services, or public health is a plus
  • Must be able to work non-traditional hours with schedule flexibility
  • Passion for supporting those who are experiencing homelessness or are housing insecure, especially those with mental illness and BIPOC
  • Eager to learn, wanting to develop a deep understanding of the landscape and network
  • Robust experience in executing research, driving others to action, and program development
  • Proven success in cultivating partnerships, relationship and coalition building, and fostering collaborative environments
  • Exceptional written and verbal communication skills with ease in public presentations
  • Excellent stakeholder engagement skills and the ability to use facilitative leadership techniques and change management tools to coordinate stakeholder activities
  • Self-motivated, goal-oriented, entrepreneurial leader who is an independent worker
  • Superior critical thinking and analytical skills
  • Ability to synthesize complex information into clear and concise summaries and recommendations
  • Ability to understand data and evidence and use it to support a business case, and make a persuasive argument to support recommendations
  • Able to create direction and movement within potentially ambiguous environments
  • Flexibility, adaptability, persistence, humility, inclusivity, and sensitivity to cultural differences
  • Supports and understands the strength of diversity, and the need for solutions to support all people in a community regardless of race, religion, gender, immigration status, or ethnicity
FUSE Corps is an equal opportunity employer with a core value of incorporating diverse perspectives into our work at every level. We encourage candidates from all backgrounds to apply for this position.