CSH recently facilitated an in-depth sharing of knowledge and experiences among several family-focused organizations pursuing the “Keeping Families Together” model of supportive housing in the Southeastern United States.

On March 11 and 12, a group of leaders from the Mecklenburg County (North Carolina) Community Support Services and Department of Social Services, Salvation Army Center of Hope, Charlotte (NC) Housing Authority, United Way of Central Carolinas and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (NC) Schools traveled to Broward County, Florida, to meet with the HEART Alliance for Sustainable Families.  HEART is one of the five sites CSH advises through the federal ACF Partnerships to Demonstrate the Effectiveness of Supportive Housing for Families with Child Welfare Involvement and the Child Welfare and Supportive Housing Resource Center. Mecklenburg County (NC) is actively engaged with CSH through its Frequent User Systems Engagement (FUSE) initiative, called MeckFUSE, which aims to use supportive housing to break the cycle of homelessness and incarceration.

The groups from North Carolina were intent on learning how HEART identified and is using federal Family Unification Program and Housing Choice rental assistance vouchers to meet the needs of child welfare-involved families through supportive housing. The delegation also heard from the Broward County Housing Authority about the Authority’s approach to partnering with support services, and the barriers and opportunities for setting housing assistance voucher preferences for complex families who are homeless and involved in the child welfare systems. Another topic of interest centered on the difficulties and successes of using the housing first philosophy when working with families.

Presentations were given by key individuals from each agency within the HEART Alliance, and state and national issues were covered by staff from Casey Family Programs and the Florida Department of Children and Families, Office of Child Welfare. One of the most impactful moments occurred when a young woman who is now thriving in her own supportive housing apartment with her children, who are safe and flourishing with their mother, spoke about her relationships with the HEART case managers, what she has learned about creating family stability and her goals for the future.

Various agencies involved in HUD Continuum of Care, coordinated access and front door services, also met with the groups, which toured a homeless shelter and learned about the coordination between the 211 hotline, outreach workers, and a highly organized system of churches providing emergency shelter.

The peer-to-peer resulted in an increased understanding of the Keeping Families Together model, the specific approaches that HEART Alliance is taking and what they have learned so far, and the expansion of information-sharing networks.

One participant from North Carolina best summed up the main benefit of peer-to-peer interactions by noting the “visit allowed us to envision how a similar project will work in our community. We had the opportunity to learn from the experiences HEART had encountered and begin to develop strategies to best create a sustainable project locally.”

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