Mar 13, 2012

Jake Maguire's picture Posted By Jake Maguire

Campaign Announces Chair of New Task Force on Homeless Families

As the Campaign’s efforts to house homeless families continue to gain steam, we’re turning to a trusted expert to help chart the way forward. This week, we’re excited to announce that Mattie Lord of UMOM New Day Centers in Phoenix, AZ will chair a new Campaign task force to identify best practices from across the country for helping the most vulnerable homeless families access permanent housing.

The Campaign’s Task Force on Vulnerable and Chronically Homeless Families, which will convene monthly by phone and online, is open to anyone interested in participating, but Lord is especially interested in recruiting those who are already working with homeless families.

“I recently saw a report on ending family homelessness and not a single practitioner was listed,” she says. “That’s not fair. You can’t make serious decisions about this work if you are not or have never actually done it.”
Lord should know. She is Chief Program Officer at UMOM, where families have access to a full slate of interventions designed to prevent and end family homelessness including diversion, shelter, transitional housing, rapid rehousing, and over 300 units of permanent, affordable housing for homeless families.
She is no stranger to the Campaign, either, having helped found Phoenix’s early Campaign initiative, Project H3. At the time, she was serving as State Homeless Coordinator for the state of Arizona, a position that landed her a meeting with Campaign Director Becky Kanis during a Tucson mental health conference.
“Hearing Becky speak was so validating for us. It was the perfect frame for everything we already wanted to do,” says Lord. “We formed a small planning group and brought her out to speak at our state conference. In order to be inclusive, we put sign-up cards on every table, and by the time we left, our planning group had expanded to more than 40 people eager to participate.”
(That group, she points out, included Mike Shore, who would go on to become the Campaign’s Western US Field Organizer.)
Asked why she wants to join the Campaign team in this new leadership capacity, Lord is clear: “I want to give back,” she says. “The Campaign’s impact in my own community has been transformative. If I can be even a small part of the emerging synergy across the country, well, how could I say no?”
So what does she plan to do as Chair of the new task force?
“First, we need to figure out which families to target,” she says. “Right now, there is no reliable definition of what makes a family vulnerable, and the federal definition for chronic homelessness among families is inapplicable in a cluster of states. We need to get as many practitioners as possible in a room together and start looking for ways to focus our lens.”
She goes on to explain that the Campaign will likely identify family vulnerability differently than it identifies individual vulnerability, which is currently based on a person’s risk of premature death as assessed by the Campaign’s Vulnerability Index survey. Families can be vulnerable in more complex ways than individuals, because one family member’s distress can impact the whole family unit in ways that may make it harder for all members to get into permanent housing.
“The majority of families we serve at UMOM aren’t traditionally disabled or mentally ill, but they haven’t simply fallen on hard times either.  In many cases, hard times are all they have known,” Lord says. “Their vulnerability is based on a combination of factors including illness, lack of education, employability, income and child care. It includes these things, but it’s broader, too.”
Lord hopes that by convening the broadest possible task force from all sectors and corners of the country, she will be able to help the group arrive at a series of best practices that accommodate this complexity. The group’s work could focus on proven barriers to housing for families, like lack of income and involvement with the criminal justice system, she posits, pointing out that these are only starting places.
“What’s clear to me is that if we can’t solve family homelessness, we’ll never solve individual homelessness, because the two are related,” she explains. “Over 30% of the homeless adults that come through our shelters today say they experienced homelessness with their families as children. If we don’t solve this crisis among families, then we had better be ready for a whole new generation of homeless adults down the road.”
If you would like to participate in the new Task Force on Vulnerable and Chronically Homeless Families, please email the Campaign’s project manager, Kat Johnson. In the coming weeks, Lord will contact everyone interested in getting involved to discuss next steps.