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Thursday, May 14, 2015

May 2015: IF WISHES WERE HOUSES… Where might I find the front door?

IF WISHES WERE HOUSES… Where might I find the front door?

Imagine, if you will, a home with rooms designed to accommodate any variety of human needs facing the homeless.  This “house” (we’ll call it…) is outfitted for sleeping, cooking, eating, bathing, playing games, studying, building, designing, thinking, reading, watching, listening, dressing, sharing stories, working, connections to jobs, health care, mental health resources and education. It’s goal is housing first, a roof to cover every head. Imagine various providers of all the essential resources that connect people in need with the resources and wherewithal to meet those needs coming together under the single goal of eliminating homelessness. Let’s call this house a Continuum of Care.  Such a “house” exists. It is real. We do not have to wish for it, dream it or imagine it. In Ramsey County more than 100 agencies and organizations collaborate to provide comprehensive services toward preventing and ending homelessness.

While all the pieces are in place to identify and meet the needs of those experiencing a housing crisis, there exists, especially in Ramsey County and St. Paul, a crisis of funding that significantly demeans our ability to realize the wish for access to houses/homes for all. It might be appropriate to visualize the absence of a front door, an entry into this mighty house we’ve just built.  A recent round of funding has left us scrambling for a way to provide the essential Coordinated Entry that is the doorway to housing and shelter for those in need. It is essential that community members, potential funders, business owners/operators, leaders and government officials and employees become fully aware of the Continuum of Care and our role in making it a success.

Many of the agencies, service providers, landlords, faith-based, humanitarian, foundations, outreach workers and funders who collaborate have been serving the needs of the homeless in a piece meal and/or broad fashion for some time. We all know the fine work of Dorothy Day, The Listening House, Saint Stanislaus, The Salvation Army and the Union Gospel Mission. The office of the Mayor, the city planners, Ramsey County Human Services, the police department, Joseph’s Coat, various health and mental health providers come to mind as participants in service to the homeless. Heading Home Ramsey’s Continuum of Care is where all of these providers come together to make up that larger house I’ve asked you to imagine. A key aspect of this collaboration is the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) housed at Wilder.  Each collaborating provider/organization collects and submits data regarding needs assessed and needs met or remaining to be met. We are able to identify how many people are experiencing a housing crisis, the exact type of crisis they are experiencing, what circumstances exist to meet their specific needs, how quickly their needs are met and when and where the crisis ended.

The Front Door or entry point to this collaboration is called COORDINATED ENTRY. I like to picture the Continuum of Care as a full-service hospital designed to meet any and all needs of the community it serves and Coordinated Entry as something of a triage system where the first call for help – a HOTLINE, for example – results in the caller being directed to the appropriate entry and beyond until his particular question has been answered and his needs have been met.

A “first call” COORDINATED ENTRY phone number for access to housing and shelter has been established:

The Heading Home Ramsey website offers a doorway to answers about how Ramsey County, under the auspices of Heading Home Ramsey and in concert with other Minnesota counties and Heading Home Minnesota and Continuums of Care throughout the country are working diligently toward the goal of ending homelessness. In the coming weeks and months this website will be updated to provide an entry point for questions you may have. Already, the site has much useful information and links to broaden and deepen your understanding of the work that’s underway and the role you can play in bringing homelessness to an end. You will find this website useful if you are a person seeking help, a landlord, a property development/management professional, resource/service provider, volunteer, funder or participant on the Continuum of Care Board of Directors or one of its work groups and committees. The COC Board meets the 3rd Friday of each month from 9 – 11 a.m. at Lutheran Social Services on Como Avenue in St. Paul. Meetings are open to the public. We are actively recruiting your participation.

Deborah Padgett is an elected member of the Ramsey County COC Board and serves as secretary on the executive committee. She is a West End resident, visual artist, novelist and a regular columnist to the COMMUNITY REPORTER.  For more visit:

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