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Mission: Ending Homelessness

Civic Warriors Podcast Episode 6: Mission: Ending Homelessness

"It's called progressive engagement... you're going to keep trying."

Eileen O’Donnell, Executive Director of Coming Home Middlesex County touches on the highs and lows faced when fighting for a cause that affects thousands. Eileen shares the impact Coming Home has made by strategically and creatively helping those within her community, aligning the right people and groups while creating awareness that has deepened the positive influence made.

Listen in as Withum’s Brad Caruso and Heather Campisi chat with Eileen on what it takes to tackle the goal of ending homelessness, how the right partnerships can further an organization’s impact and how Coming Home has realized innovative programs that work together to solve homelessness.
#CivicWarriors #WithumImpact

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This Is Civic Warriors…Podcast Trailer

This podcast was transcribed through a third-party application. Please disregard any misrepresentations.

Civic Warriors :
Innovative, dynamic, gritty, determined warrior. This podcast is about the innovators, the leaders on the front lines of adversity, the all around good people doing good deeds. They are the civic warriors of the world. Our guests are the leaders in the nonprofit industry affecting change. They try, they fail, they overcome through their stories. We can join forces to become civic warriors. Welcome France.

Brad:
So today we are going to talk about homelessness in the not-for-profit world. We’re joined today by Eileen O’Donnell who is the Executive Director of Coming Home of Middlesex County. I also have a small conflict of interest because I’m the board chair in Middlesex County. The reason we brought Eileen on today is because we are doing a lot of innovative things. We are helping to solve the homelessness issue that exists in the world in a lot of different ways in our County itself. And Eileen has been the catalyst for that for the County and a catalyst for that in the homeless community and in the not for profit community specifically around this issue. So welcome Eileen.

Eileen:
Thank you.

Brad:
So I figured just for our friends who are listening out there, why don’t we give them a little background about Coming Home? Spend a little bit and just say what’s our mission and how did we get here?

Eileen:
Okay. So Coming Home was a little bit of a strange not-for-profit because not-for-profits are usually formed by a group of interested private people who want to take care of, for example, their developmentally disabled children cause they know they won’t be around for a long time. And then they form a nonprofit and everybody contributes and they have their mission. But Coming Home was formed by the Middlesex County. So it’s a government agency saying, I think we should have a nonprofit to implement our plan to end homelessness, that all counties in the country were required to develop around circa 2008/2010 around there, in order to get money from HUD, Housing and Urban Development Agency of the federal government. And so Middlesex County developed their plan with input from a lot of stakeholders and then said, okay, now how do we spearhead the implementation of this plan? We could hire a handful of people on our staff or we could create a nonprofit. Because perhaps a nonprofit is more facile in public bidding. They don’t have to go according to the government rules bidding. They will be able to form public private partnerships more easily than we will. They don’t have all those government regulations to deal with and they’ll be able to bring in private monies, perhaps. Mistaken idea that the County founders had was that they were going to start this with a minimum contribution of $50,000 and there would be $50,000 actually from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, from the United Way of Central Jersey and that then they hired an executive director, which was my predecessor, and then they would be done.

Brad:
Yeah, nonprofits are self sustaining. You don’t need funding.

Eileen:
And they would go away. They figured, okay. Then the private sector will completely take over and there’ll be, there’ll be out of it. They’ll go away, but that doesn’t happen because private funding comes in, but private funding very rarely is for your operations.

Brad:
Very rarely it’s mostly for a project program or initiative, especially innovative initiatives. So the time it takes to create that.

Eileen:
Right. They don’t want to pay your salary. You know, they want to feed a family, house a family clothe, things like that.

Brad:
They want to further their impact, which is what they’re incorporated to do.

Eileen:
Right. And they want to be able to point to something – not to your operations, not to your overhead. You know? We pay their electricity. It’s an interesting mission for coming home cause the mission of coming home was to create a system to end homelessness, was to get everybody to work together. Everybody, all the stakeholders in the County, the shelters, the food, the soup kitchens, the food pantries, the affordable housing developers. Get everybody to work together. It makes for a horrible elevator speech for funding. When you say like, oh, I’m the soup kitchen and I give two meals a day to people who are hungry, you know and sound like, well I’m creating a system, that person pushes floor 2 and their out.

Brad:
That has been one of our most significant challenges just from the fundraising aspect is well what do you do on paper? And it’s like, it’s a little more challenging than that. But when people really understand what we do behind the scenes, not paper. You start understanding the value of having a not-for-profit that can partner with agencies. At the end of the day, the nonprofit world, I work with a lot of clients there. You know, it’s hardly inefficient with spending in certain regards because you could have five agencies doing the same thing and then each one has their own overhead structure. where if they all didn’t have that overhead structure, more money would go towards a particular cause. And you still have people being paid like a reasonable wage. And that’s where I think, you know, I want to talk about today a little bit is the whole partnership aspect. Like how do we maximize our impact on not coming home, but the issue we’re trying to solve. Ignore coming home all together. At least that’s how I view it. What are we trying to solve and how do we get there?

Eileen:
So more importantly than you know, the economies of scale and efficiencies in agencies. It was for the homeless person, right? And we’re, we’re having a lot of success in creating a system. But before that, you know, the help the homeless person got was fortuitous. It depended on whose doorstep they left or who they might know, you know. So if they happen to know somebody from Catholic Charities or they landed at Elijah’s Promise or you know, then they would get certain help. And everybody for example, had their own list of people that they were the clients if they, you know, have resources, how they were going to help them. And so the idea was, you know, just like Doctors Without Borders to have agencies without walls. And so let’s do everything in a coordinated fashion so we don’t duplicate things. We’re more efficient. That was the idea. So we started out and it was helpful in the beginning that we wanted to change our Homeless Management Information System. So that’s the acronym is HMIS. So in New Jersey, the HMFA, the state agency, was doing HMIS for everybody except Bergen County and so, they were doing for everybody, including us. But people here were not quite happy with the software provider they were using because they wanted it to be an open system and they wanted it to be client based, not agency based so that the homeless person didn’t have to repeat their information everywhere they went for help and that we could collaborate and coordinate. We went out and researched and found – when I say we, I mean the collective we, not Coming Home cause it’s, you know, all the agencies that we’re working together to end homelessness – and researched other software providers and found Bowman and has been renamed multiple times since then through its corporate iterations. And it was client based in it and it could be open. And so when you have something like that around which everybody needs to coalesce because you need to learn the system get trained on and that sort of thing, it brings everybody together. So it was a natural vehicle, not like we cheated, but it was great that it came in right then. So people started started thinking system-wide. So we wanted to use the information not just for reporting, which you know, to, to our funders, which had been used before, but we wanted to use it for planning and operationally. So we all started talking about that sort of thing and that brought us together, and that was in 2012. And that’s sort of just thinking along those lines. And then by the beginning of 2015 the end of 2014, well actually we did something in 2013 which is really cool too, but let’s get back to the stakeholders. They said, let’s implement a coordinated assessment system. Again, this was a government regulation. You know, sometimes government regulations can be onerous and dealing with regulators can be pain, but some really great ideas and they allow you the flexibility to implement it the way you want to implement it. And so it took a year of planning where all the stakeholders get together and sit. And the idea is to have a single point of entry for a homeless person. And it could be virtual, which for us it is, it’s by calling 211 and then have a uniform assessment tool and agreed upon criteria to prioritize the persons on that list. So it took a, year of planning to agree to that and testing different models and so by the end of 2015 we implemented our coordinated assessment system, and that really has brought the community together and working together. So it’s like really cool.

Brad:
And I think the bigger picture there that I think a lot of people don’t consider, which I love that we kind of were the for in regard, was you know, how do you take away the agency only look and how do you put it into the hands of this is the system because it is a system and it’s, there’s a start and a finished all of this, you’ve identified an issue and then there’s an end goal and that end goal is never one agency that can accomplish that. There’s no one agency that can provide, maybe there is but I don’t know them, that could provide housing well, case management well, identification of people well, data management well, doing everything else that you do, providing food, providing transportation. I mean there’s a lot of things that have to happen to help someone actually solve the root of whatever the issue may be. It’s not just, it’s not just homelessness, it’s always something more than homelessness, and that’s something Eileen always kind of talked to us at the board level and it dawned on me, there’s a lot more healthcare aspect of homelessness than there is actual no roof on your under over your head. But the data management part I think is a big thing because you know, collecting that data, analyzing it, and then making decisions based on quantifiable data helps you really provide a better result and helps you get to the end quicker and better. You know? Okay, these individuals are chronically homeless. These individuals are temporarily, but no one even knows who these people are because maybe a single mother working a job, they lost their job and now they have nowhere to go. We know who they are now. You know, they haven’t had a new that they can get into the system, we can understand and help them.

Eileen:
And even more importantly. Every year. HUD requires everybody to do a point in time count, it’s called, but it’s not count. Right. But what good does that do? You count people do an analysis of the answers to that survey that you need to know who these people are and why they’re walking in. Otherwise you can’t really gear your interventions to reality and you can’t do that. And more importantly is, you know, your single mother who lost a job according to federal regulations, if she was sleeping on her neighbor’s couch, which is clearly a temporary situation. She wouldn’t be counted as homeless. If she were on the street or if she was paid for to sleep in a hotel by an agency, she would be counted as homeless. But if she was paying for that hotel room with her and her three kids, for example, she wouldn’t be counted as homeless. Cause she really just wants to stay in a hotel room with her three kids.

Brad:
And so think about that. Right? So, so you would never in the public know that issue. But that’s a really core issue. That’s someone that wants help. That’s someone that really desires to improve on their personal situation. Right. And there’s no government funding that exists for that particular cause or purpose other than you know, private nonprofit dollars or right. Some family and friends so you know sleeping with other families on the couch precariously house and we do count them and analyze them because you know, not to speak derogatorily, but that’s the low hanging fruit. Maybe you can help those people more quickly, but they do have some resources, personal resources of their own that maybe you can get them into stable housing and to their particular level self-sufficiency quicker than you can somebody who has a drug addiction and has been on the streets for three months.

Heather:
And when you’re looking at these temporarily homeless, do you find that they’re using, so you have this whole coalition of organizations, do you find that those are the constituents that are usually using these services more often than the permanently homeless? Have you looked at the numbers that way to see?

Eileen:
We have, and so we have outreach teams because a lot of the people who are chronically homeless and as Brad mentioned, it’s a term of art. It basically means longterm homeless. There’s like a three year can add up to a year. It could be different episodes, things like that. But anyway, especially longterm homeless and a lot of them have untreated addictions or untreated mental illness and they don’t want to be reached quite yet. You know. So we have outreach teams and we have now a more case conferencing and more collaboration around particular individuals. We’ve been having some success there, but you can only help people who want to be helped, you know, so they’re not using services. You know, the other people would be using services that are wrong for them. Yeah. But they’re not using services. But you know you’re going to, it’s called progressive engagement. You’re going to keep trying. Cause there’s a philosophy called Housing First, right. Was started by a professor up in Columbia. And I actually just heard it on the news on NPR the other day. They started talking about it and it’s like

Brad:
Cause like I’ve been talking for five years.

Eileen:
I guess has been proven to be successful. It’s like yeah, sort of and it’s all, it goes around money. Right? So it was started by Sam Tsemberis, who was a Columbia professor and he was working with the persistent and severely and persistently mentally ill. And he said, listen, it’s so much easier to get them services and get them helped. You know if they’re homeless once they have an address once they have a roof over their head. So let’s do housing first and then let’s hook them up to other services in the community. Cause you’ll, you’ll get a Middlesex County community needs assessment and you’ll see lots of people who have roofs over their head who access mental health services and addiction services because we don’t have to be perfect to have a roof over your head. Right. So that all makes a lot of sense. And so we want to do that for everybody, not just the mentally ill. And it’s harder than for the mentally ill, and that’s, that’s probably not intuitive to people that are like, wow, why would it be harder? Because there’s no money. So for like people who are mentally ill, there was often vouchers from a state government or a federal government. And so when you put that person into the housing, there’s somebody to pay the rent while you’re helping them get connected. And maybe there’s somebody also to pay for your case management connecting services, right. While they’re getting to their level of self-sufficiency. But with people who don’t have government assistance, you get them into housing first. Who’s paying the rent? And who’s paying for your services while you’re going around and helping them connect to the services? While you may or may not have a job and it’s hard to get the job without this, we were homeless for a reason. So there’s things that need to be addressed before you’re leg up to up to where you to be, which is perhaps job ready.

Brad:
I know a lot of agencies that are kind of, I think, I think definitely moving in that direction of, okay, not only do we have to offer this, you know, services to help you get well or the services to help you find the next step, we actually want to have you have an avenue for the next step. Whether that’s, we have a on top of us providing case management, we have a job training program and we actually, we actually bought a facility and this is where we do X, Y and Z and we have a contract with people that can hire you. You know what I mean? That’s, that’s even the further step, I think.

Eileen:
And I would love to see it. We’re working more and more with the County One-Stop, and workforce development to see what we can do there and they’ve been really receptive recently. Right, so we’re trying to get some things on there. They do something really cool up in Newark at Covenant House. For example, they have an entrepreneurial board, of local business owners, they meet once a month. They do little apprenticeships and they take people in and then then hiring them.

Brad:
Oh awesome.

Eileen:
And so I am careful not to step on people’s toes. So for example, the workforce development has this apprenticeship program, but it’s rather complex and it’s taking a while to roll out. So I might revisit that entrepreneurial board idea. But one thing more I wanted to say about housing first was, we started talking about progressive engagement is even if you do find something to pay rent and you put somebody into a house and say they do have an addiction, it is not a prerequisite that they stop using before they get into their house. That’s, you know, that’s the whole housing first philosophy. But they do have to of course abide by the terms of their lease or they’ll get kicked out. So you know, nothing illegal can be done on premises, you know, then if you’re shooting up, you can not shoot up at the house. Right. But if you do shoot up and you come home and then just fall asleep, you know your health is really not your landlord’s business. As long as you’re not violating the terms of the lease. And as long as you’re not, you’re not .

Brad:
Breaking the rules.

Eileen:
Right, you’re not breaking the rules. However, that doesn’t mean your job is done. Like okay fine you’re in there, you know Housing First. No. So you have to respect their free will and their, you know, self-determination. But you’re not going to stop progressively engage, like go out and see if they want to go get coffee. And if that doesn’t work next week try tea.

Brad:
But it’s an interesting concept too, just a little bit off tangent but I’m reading a book right now about about hope, right? So if you’re depressed, like how do you find hope in anything? And they said like one of the main things in find hope is finding a community to be a part of. And so I think that’s where too like providing, providing like community-based housing. I know some of our recent projects, I think community based housing, it also helps in an aspect because now you’re on other, other people in similar situations. And if people really get the message like, okay, like we can all work together and actually improve all our lives together and oh that person’ doing well? I want to do well like them. That’s why you can’t have drugs in house like that. That would not work well.

Eileen:
That’s always a push pull too sort of. There’s a nice community of people. But then, then there’s regulations because it makes sense as least cerebrally you know, from state policymakers to say, no, we don’t want you to have more than 25% of persons who had been homeless to be in one area because they want to make sure you’re not isolating. Right. It’s like that’s where all the previously homeless people live. So they want to make sure that you’re integrating into the community. So there’s, but there’s competing goals there, right? Yeah. No, sometimes. So if somebody has been on the street for three years and then gets his own apartment, you think oh great, and he’s like, I am so disoriented, you know, I don’t want you to be here, right.

Brad:
Human beings by nature are competitive. It’s been proven for the last 10,000 years. Super interesting concept. You know, and I know, you know, kind of segue into the other things that Coming Home has done and one of the things that since I’ve been here, we got heavily involved with SHI Program. Wanted to talk a little bit about that and just maybe less about the financial details but more about how did it get to where it is and what are we trying to accomplish with it and then why is it working.

Eileen:
It all depends on your definition of working. We have a, from the beginning, from 2013 started calling our fundraising campaigns Housing is Healthcare because like come on, you know, it’s not just all about eating non genetically modified foods. It’s about having a kitchen to cook any foods, you know, let alone have a roof over your head. So back in 2013 we started doing a campaign, housing is healthcare sort of model. We sort of stole it from a New York State. New York State wasn’t very cool at the time. Under that commissioner of health, they are actually using their state side of the Medicaid dollars, which were under their control for bricks and mortar for homeless person. That was very cool. So I sort of did, you know housing is healthcare New Jersey style and just tried to get some people to fund me and they were like, no, no in healthcare foundations cause it’s 2013 and they’re like, yeah, that doesn’t fit into our mantra. And I’m like, really? Is that right? But now it’s, so fast forward to 2015/2016, maybe 2016, and everybody’s talking about.

Brad:
And this is the interesting part.

Eileen:
And now everybody’s talking about the social determinants of health. Right, right. And it’s like, so I’ve been in, I’m actually, my background is in healthcare law, so I’ve been in healthcare policy and healthcare law for longer than I’d like to admit. You know, we’d always been talking about access to healthcare and by access everybody insurance. And then we sort of presume, although not completely accurately, that we’ve solved that issue through the affordable care act. Now everybody has access. So now what’s the next great thing in healthcare? And everybody at the same time sort of landed in 2016 on social determinants of health. And that’s like, welcome to the party. Really. It’s like I’m glad you’re here. That’s the healthcare sector. Social sector always knew this, right? Actually in 2016 CMS center for Medicaid and Medicare services put out an RFQ to the country and said, you’ve got your social services operating in one lane and healthcare operating in the other lane and different funders, different rules, different, you know, so, but you know, they often treat the same people but there’s no bridge. And so communities, we want you to create an accountable health community where there’s a bridge. That was another very cool thing that government did. So instead of telling, they didn’t say healthcare, you should do social services and social services, you should do healthcare. And they said, keep your, keep doing what you’re doing, but bridge your two sectors so that you’re treating the whole person. And reducing unnecessary healthcare costs and then improving healthcare outcomes. Right. Knowing that the country was very different at the time and it was an election year, so we all know how different it was. They said you guys come up with a model to do that. So we started doing that here in Middlesex County. We got the hospitals and the FQHC and insurance companies, and school social work and the medical school. And we got everybody together and said let’s do something. And so we applied and in 2016 and it took the federal government a year to say you didn’t get it. But our group nonetheless said, so what, let’s do something anyway because look, we got everybody around the table so let’s do something anyway. So it took us another year to figure out what to do cause we still thought we had to, like it was a research project we had to go to IRB and all this. And finally we had a friend of mine who was also the commissioner, I think commissioner of department of human services at the time said it’s not a research project. Stop has an implement. It’s been studied up the wazoo when it’s shown. So just implement it. So we have a program two year pilot program now whereby coming home has two case managers that are devoted to addressing the social determinants of health such as homelessness, food insecurity, your interaction with your personal network. That’s about it. We really can’t hit transportation because we don’t have resources to help transportation, but it’s a huge need of the two of the high utilizers of the two area, acute care hospitals, emergency departments. So we’re only, we are nine months in eight months in and we’re just now looking at the cost savings. So funny you should say that. So we have actually,… oh and then we got 25 vouchers from the department of community affairs for this project as well. And that’s huge. That’s huge. That’s a huge contribution.

Brad:
And that’s kind of what Eileen was talking about before, about how do we help in different aspects but getting state vouchers to fund housing is a significant burden off your shoulder. It’s state dollars that are subsidizing housing, which is fantastic.

Eileen:
Which was amazing because we had such a good reputation for having created this system and been able to lease up vouchers beforehand, you know, so good. Good begets good. So because we were efficient because we did the hard work, that we did, the infrastructure work that we were able to use state vouchers that we had that had been given up to the state before according to their very quick lease-up guidelines. And so they’re like, okay, we had a good reputation and so we earned that and then they gave us this. So we have been able to use 11 of those 25 vouchers so far. So we are helping people. Are we necessarily reducing dollars to the ER? That remains to be seen. We just had a preliminary report today, this morning, from one of the hospitals. I haven’t even opened it yet. Bob and my staff person has and says, it doesn’t look good from a money standpoint, but because there’s this, this, this, this and this that needs to be tweaked, alright, let’s tweak it. You know? So a lot of those people are very, very sick and do they have a social determinant? The social need? Not sure. And if it’s medical case management you need, it’s not us. It’s you. You know, to make sure that they’re taking their medicine, that they’re going to their primary care doc instead of going to the ER and things like that. But that’s not, we don’t mean to do what you do. We need to do what we do.

Brad:
But that’s the partnership aspect. I think you’re starting to see a lot more clearly seeing it in the healthcare world. You’re seeing consolidation left and right in healthcare, but you haven’t seen as much consolidation or as much partnership as probably you would like to just solve this issue. Right. So exactly that. Well this isn’t our wheel house. We don’t do this. They do. This is my best friend. I talk to them. Here’s the contact information. Let me know once you talk to them so that we can continue to help you. And now that little conversation has just saved somebody’s life. Or further someone’s position in life.

Eileen:
Right. So we’re having, we’re having success from that point of view, but from in order to keep the program funded by the acute care hospitals, then we’re going to have to be able to use the hospitals from a financial perspective because the people that we work with are very happy actually because they’re getting so much help with patient management, but they’re saying we need to improve, we need to impress the higher ups because they’re the ones that are going to be deciding whether or not. So we gotta work on that and work on a way to present that.

Heather:
So I see multiple levels of challenges. So you’re bringing everybody in. So I would love to hear, I don’t know at what point you came in, but bringing everyone on board to kind of buy into this. I know you said it took a while for the country to kind of see it, but what were some of the challenges that you experienced getting everyone on board and then implementing this? Because I’m sure everybody is kind of fighting for their own cause and how do you kind of have everybody take a step back and really realize, okay we’re doing this as a group?

Brad:
Yeah, here’s the social issue, we’re all in this game together.

Heather:
And how do we all help?

Eileen:
Well they have financial incentive and that helps a big deal. Right. And also as I said it, this was 2016/2017 so we implemented it at the end of 2018 the whole healthcare community was now talking about the social determined. Like if you’re playing in that space you were like so 1990’s. So they’re like, okay fine. And you know, and because we had been talking about it for a really long time, and had gotten these people together. I’m like, we have to stop talking and start doing, cause people around us are starting to do and we’re looking silly, you know, so we have to start doing and what I said to them, because we have people who are doing social impact investing, right? So I was approached by somebody who knew somebody at somebody’s like Ivy league and who said, oh my friend’s doing this. And so they, they said, we’ll give you money. We have young entrepreneurs, young philanthropists who unlike their parents now want to see social impact for their money. They don’t want to just keep giving their money to the same charity that their parents always gave, and they want to see social impact investing. So we will call them Ivy league. So we Ivy league group, we get the money from young philanthropists and then we get you all together. And then we convinced the person who’s going to benefit also known as the hospitals, right? Because they’ll see reduction in their un-reimbursed healthcare costs for the use of the ER. And then we’ll get them to pay you and pay the investors back with an ROI. Well that’s a lot of money, you know, and I’m like, and so we brought that to our group and they’re like, Oh, we’re all here already and we already know. We don’t need them to amalgamate us. We’re here. And I said, okay so we want to do something. CMS was going to give money to do it. Who’s going to get some money? I said to the healthcare providers, if you get the little money, I’ll get the big money. I said, I said with false bravado.

Brad:
No but she definitely did say that. Very convincing at the time.

Eileen:
And they’re like, okay, what’s the little money? And I said the little money is to pay for the case management services and the big money is to pay for the housing. Well thank god DCA came through cause I’m still trying to get private big money to help with this. Cause that’s what I thought I would get. And I’m still working on that. So we sort of say, okay, you’re the little money. Well they’re not without mentioning names so much. The smaller hospital of the sort of too, I don’t know if they’re still competitive, but you know, historically competitive hospitals said yes. So then the person that we’ve been working with from the bigger hospital jumped up and down saying, Oh my God, we have to say yes now. So it was those sorts of pressures of playing, you know, one off the other and then, and then we’re in the middle of it. So hopefully hopefully we can tweak it so that we can show, because we absolutely have that benefited their patients, our clients. And that must have some financial impact. It all depends on, I mean there’s lies, and statistics, right? So it all depends on how you measure it.

Brad:
It’s super interesting. I think, you know, we probably won’t get into it here, but one of the biggest things we hear in the nonprofit world more and more and more is less cost-based funding. So a lot of agencies and funding, the state’s doing this are converting to more fee for service model. Everyone’s moving away from a cost based funding model like we’re going to pay you for salaries instead they say we’re going to pay you for impact, you prove to us that you served 3000 people and we’ll give them money, not you’re going to pay for these people’s salaries. And I think that it’s definitely a shift in generational. Like the millennial generation is a lot more as you. Exactly like you said. They want to be involved. The generation before us, like my grandma, Mimi, she wants to write a check to you because it makes her feel good to write a check to you. She has the means to do it and here’s the check , do your good.

Eileen:
Do I have her number?

Brad:
No but I told you I’m seeing her at a wedding next week and I’m gonna definitely ask her for a generous donation. But it’s interesting that’s a big part. The more and more we hear it, like maybe the younger folks of the new generation don’t necessarily have the financial means to support organizations, but they definitely want to be involved in organizations. They want to volunteer more and if they do have money, they want to give you money and then they want to participate, they want to like, they don’t want to just give you money. And so, so you know, us adapting to that is interesting I think. I think we’re all gonna experience that in the next 10 years is getting away from cost so much. Even though you have to run a business. So like there are costs, you got to know what they are.

Eileen:
We talked about even for this pilot, to do performance-based for the reimbursement and I was like, yeah, but I can’t hire people six months at a time right.

Brad:
So think about hiring people without a budget because you don’t have a budget with all of this. It’s just you’re going to get dollars to make an impact. That’s very hard to match.

Eileen:
So I at least said as it is I’m hiring a person for two years, you know, so I’m telling you this is a two year position, you know, so I, I said I cannot hire somebody for six months. This is a pilot project. We need you for two years. And so we settled on that.

Brad:
Right, right.

Eileen:
So the one other cool thing that we do, this other project we do is we were tired of sitting around waiting for vouchers to house people. And we started a program in 2013 to create housing. They said, yeah, we’re not, we’re not developers, but now we sort of are, you know. So we just like, we did a single point of entry for a homeless person. We went around to affordable housing developers, social service providers, banks, who wanted to get in and out at a high cost. And we said how about a single point of entry for a homeless project? Because we didn’t want you building for money, we wanted you building for need that we can identify through our Homeless Management Information System. Right. So, you know, we have been recognized by the federal government for having reached functional zero for veterans homelessness. New Jersey didn’t have a lot of veterans to begin with and had fewer homeless vets. And so we were able to, and when Obama, his winning years was said, I’m gonna throw a boatload of money at this. And if you feel a boatload of money at something, you could probably have a lot of impact.

Brad:
Money doesn’t solve every issue but it certainly serves issues.

Eileen:
And it did. And a lot of communities were able to end veterans’ homelessness functionally, which means like you can identify a handful of people or two handsful of people and you’re working with them and you know, some don’t want help, do want help, so on and so forth. But it’s not an issue anymore. But if there’s still money there and people would come in and say, I’m going to build a $6 million apartment complex for homeless vets well that’s not helping Middlesex County and its homelessness problem. I actually even said to the municipality, you know, we don’t have that many homeless vets and they said we know but we can import them from Pennsylvania and they’ll still be that. They probably still will be.

Brad:
You’re correct.

Eileen:
You’re correct there. But that’s just not helping us.

Brad:
But our charter is Middlesex County.

Eileen:
So we want people building for need, not building for existence of money. And not building for ease of passage. Cause you know, you have to fight the stigma around homelessness and your town council might not want to approve a complex in your town. You know, unless you do a lot of work and it’s easier to say it’s for senior citizens or it’s for veterans because it tugs at people’s heart strings, you know, so, but we want you to build for needs. So we started this program and we actually have push pull projects. So push projects. We go out and try to find land or a property that needs refurbishment. We created a downstream LLC. We had a casual, we have a pool of affordable housing developers that said, they answered our FQ and said they want to work with us. And then we say, can we partner with you? And you got 85 we only have 50 15% state, but we want to make sure it stays true to its mission. And you’re the real developer. We’ve learned a lot from them and we’ll actually catalyze. So we catalyze the construction of affordable housing. We also do pool projects, which is you’re not going to stop doing what you do just cause we started this little homes for homeless program, but pull is in please? This will help identify new money and we’ll also give you need data, you know, so that you know, you’re not just again building for other things.

Brad:
This is where we, I know from outsider looking in, you know, Eileen obviously understands this way better than I ever will just from, she’s ingrained in it, and basically created all of this. But this is also where our coordinate assessment comes into play because not only are we building housing, but now we have a prioritized list of individuals that we know, like these 10 people there, they’re first in line to go to this. You don’t have to go find them once. You don’t have to build the housing and find people. It’s the bigger picture of we know who all these individuals are and what their needs are and now it’s, okay we know how to create an impact. We have to now find people that are gonna partner with us to build housing. And I think that’s where I’ve seen like just the, just a brilliant intelligent idea of going about it. It’s not build the housing and place people. It’s we already know who the people are, let’s know the housing so we can start placing them. It’s just a different thought process.

Eileen:
And it’s even educating even institutional funders because they’re like, no, like you build the housing and then you have this whole fair housing marketing plan. It’s like no, no, no, no. When it’s for homeless people, the coordinated assessment system replaces the fair housing market.

Brad:
We already have a waiting list.

Eileen:
Right. And by its very nature is non-discriminatory cause it’s just people who came to you who are homeless.

Brad:
It’s not discriminatory in the sense that it’s based on need.

Eileen:
Right.

Brad:
These are the symptoms of this individual and they need to get in here first.

Eileen:
Right. And so what we’re trying to do for the people who are building and have some sort of homeless component to their affordable housing complexes, you can have some criteria cause you’ve got a list of need and then you have a list of resources and the list of resources, they can have some criteria but it can’t be too exclusionary. It’s like we don’t want anybody, you know who’s homeless. But it can be, we don’t want anybody who’s an arsonist, was convicted of arson or something like that. You know. So we, we asked to look in order to get our recommendation for their funding proposal that we make them sign in the memorandum of understanding – see my legal background comes in handy – to say, you’ll use our coordinate assessment system and you’ll let us look at your screening criteria of your tenant policy beforehand. So we can agree on your needs and our needs and come to some balance. Complaint to my rules.

Brad:
That’s what it is. Yeah. Eileen and I always go back and forth. I always talk about accounting, compliance, like tax compliance and all that and she’s like I don’t know what you’re talking about. But then every once in a while she throws in this real compliance thing!

Eileen:
We have volunteers and our board, they’re fine. They’re going to make things happen. Somebody will let us know if I’ve done something wrong. I always prefer to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Brad:
That is how you get things done. In all honesty, in any world.

Eileen:
Well I used to say this and this is true, if I was going to do some presentations I’d say you know, there are no rules. My husband would say you can’t say that you’re talking to a room of regulators. There are new rules cause you can think of different ways to do different things. However there are resources and there is funding and there are rules attached to that and that’s fair. If you’re giving me money you get to make the rules about how I use it. And I get that. But outside that.

Brad:
You know free thinking is how you got to where you are. That’s how a lot of these programs came about is that free thinking. If you just follow the rules. I mean, how many nonprofit agencies would go work with a hospital, 10 social service agencies of housing developer and all these, and it’s like well but look at the impact. So yeah, super interesting. So I guess you know, bigger picture, so we’re not for profit organization. How does one, how does one help our cause and help the overriding cause of ending homelessness? Like how can someone help Coming Home further our mission?

Eileen:
They can support our fundraisers and they can just give to the nation. So you can give donations on our website, www.Cominghomemiddlesex.org.

Brad:
Fundraising side. We’ve been trying some really cool ideas but that’s one of the things I’ve had fun with. You know, we tried a golf outing four different ways. We did regular golf course, fancy golf course, mini golf, Top Golf. We tried literally everything and you really learn from that about what’s profitable and what’s not. Going back towards the mission, what’s fun, what’s not and eventually you land on something that ultimately works. But a lot of trial and error, all different types.

Eileen:
And two social events. We did a day at the races.

Brad:
We did a friendrasor. Low cost event that you’ve got a lot of people to build your network and get people to know who you are a little bit better.

Eileen:
And learn the Monmouth Racetrack.

Brad:
Yeah and learn how to gamble.

Eileen:
We went out of County for that one but we don’t have a racetrack.

Brad:
Alright well, thank you so much, Eileen, for your time.

Eileen:
You’re welcome thanks for having me.

Brad:
Obviously we super appreciate having you on here. You know, we look forward to continue to do the great things we’re doing.

Eileen:
Thank you. Thank you so much. Nice to meet you, Heather.

Brad:
Hey, warriors. Thanks for tuning in. On the next episode of Civic Warriors, we’ll talk with John Natalli from US Law Enforcement Organization, LEO, about raising awareness and providing assistance to those that serve our communities. Make sure to subscribe to Civic Warriors and thanks for all your support. Have a great day.

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