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Kevin Curry inside Lynnhaven August 28, 2017, 9:09 PM

“If you get the chance to do it over, do it right.” - Julia Orlando, Bergen County, New Jersey, Director of Housing, Health, and Human Services -- the first place in the U.S. to end veteran and chronic homelessness

To Whom It Concerns:

Thank you for sharing “VIRGINIA BEACH STRATEGIC PLAN TO END HOMELESSNESS (DRAFT) (2017 – 2020)” and for considering public comment. I commend all who worked to assemble the plan and publish this document. I am an native and resident of Virginia Beach living in King’s Grant. As a private citizen, I admit to knowing little about my city government’s involvement in ending homelessness, and close to nothing at all about the vital work city employees do every day in support of our most vulnerable residents. I trust and leave it to my representatives and city employees working directly on this issue to know better what plan we should enact. I know we are compelling The Lighthouse Center to move and would like the Judeo-Christian Outreach Center to move. I know we are considering new Housing Resource Center and zoning/incentives for new affordable housing developments. I know our city is faced with potential new responsibilities previously held by Commonwealth of Virginia and our Federal government. I know this is a serious and sensitive matter. I offer these comments in support of my city, my fellow citizens who have a direct interest in this plan, and, foremost, in support of our homeless neighbors who want to get off our streets and into a permanent home.

When finalizing and implementing this plan, please consider the following:

Above all, I ask that you directly invite, actively seek out, and deeply involve the homeless people and their advocates who may be affected by this plan. Certainly do the same for all residents who may be affected by this plan, but it is right to afford special consideration to the very subjects of this plan. They must be included in every aspect of this process.

It is possible. Learn from and collaborate with the best:

By researching this topic, I had the privilege of speaking with Julia Orlando, Director of Housing, Health, and Human Services for Bergen County, New Jersey. Mrs. Orlando is widely recognized as leading the nation’s first successful effort to end veterans and chronic homelessness in her county. In speaking with Mrs. Orlando I learned what “ending” homeless means: getting to “functional zero” or, put differently, ensuring more people are leaving the system than entering it. It is possible. They’ve done it in Bergen County. Mrs. Orlando graciously offered to speak and work with anyone in Virginia Beach who would like to learn more about the system in Bergen County. She welcomes representatives from our own department(s) to visit her for working retreats.

Too many are too quick to point out the obvious. Of course homelessness will never end, but with earnest collaboration and the right system of services it is possible to get to functional zero.

A data-driven system is required:

I learned from Mrs. Orlando that the only way to enable multi-organizational collaboration and get to functional zero is by transforming from a collective of projects to a system of services.

The primary physical element of the system of services strategy is to relocate all physical services to a single hub. The Housing Resources Center is such a hub and why I support closing and/or discontinuing funding of other facilities that depend on city support.

The virtual element of a system of services strategy is a “data-driven” system. Data-driven systems of services are where I and my colleagues at Code for Hampton Roads (http://code4hr.org) have experience and where we focus our efforts. The remainder of these comments and questions address objectives related to data-driven systems and digital services. We recognize and sincerely appreciate that digital services represent one piece of a much larger enterprise. Our only goal at Code for Hampton Roads is to make sure our cities get digital services right and get help if they need it.

Objective 1.4: Enhance our system of capturing and reporting data

Item a) should be more clearly written as it can be confusing. Is the plan to maintain both Charity Tracker and the separate Bowman Systems / Mediware HMIS? Of is there intent to transition over to Charity Tracker’s HMIS, i.e., to a unified system from a single vendor? The item should make this explicit, even though decision may still be under evaluation.

There is no mention of the use of biometrics or scanning technology, which experts like Mrs. Orlando consider vital to this objective. Will biometrics be used in capturing and reporting data? If not biometrics, what scanning system will be used? Or will no such technology be used? The plan could make this explicit.

Biometrics improve the accuracy and timeliness of data by reducing or eliminating labor-intensive data entry and report compilation. Biometrics enable several analytic capabilities, including unique identity resolution and insight into individual frequency and time of day.

At minimum, state the means by which we will automate data collection since it is important in the field but not mentioned in the plan.

Objective 1.5: Provide effective case management and aftercare services.
Ensure conformity of case management software, if any, to the OpenVB Administrative Directive.

Objective 1.6: Complete and open the Housing Resource Center to expand and enhance our existing system, and replace the services provided by the Lighthouse Center.

b. Develop a plan for the relocation of appropriate current services and the creation of new services for the Housing Resource Center, to include physical and virtual access

Ensure that future users and residents of the Housing Resource Center are actively engaged in its design and development of virtual as well as physical access. Ask HRC users what the expect and need from digital services, which digital services they use now, if any, and how they will access those services. Involve HRC users in digital service design and delivery. Avoid virtual access requiring broadband connections.

In the City Council workshop on August 8th, Councilman Moss referenced responsibilities previously held by Commonwealth of Virginia and Federal government were being shifted to cities (or abandoned). We can assume this will include to digital services and funding for same. It may be possible to cover these gaps while improving service through the following item:

d. Seek to establish social enterprises as part of, or in conjunction with, the Housing Resource Center

Code for Hampton Roads will partner with City of Virginia Beach in area of digital services, public engagement, and skills training. We have education, training, and experience working for government and the public, managing information security, and teaching classroom instruction. Please contact kevin@codeforamerica.org.

Objective 3.1: Ensure those experiencing street homelessness are provided opportunities to connect to the housing crisis response system

c. Develop a multi-system approach of sharing information across outreach teams to include PATH Outreach, and coordinate with other systems (e.g. hospitals, jails, other emergency systems)

This is another opportunity to use the open data portal (for not-personally-identifiable data) and those same technologies internally (for personal data) to exchange information across the city and with partners. Through HTTPS APIs, you can exchange information rapidly and on-demand. For example, occupancy levels at all facilities, including shelters, hospitals, and jails, could be syndicated throughout the city.

Objective 6.2: Increase community knowledge about homelessness and our community’s efforts, successes and challenges.

b. Post and make available data and reports for stakeholder and public review and utilization

This is one item where we suggest what not to do: do not rely solely on periodically published, static (PDF) documents. Avoid static documentation and publish continuously through indicators. Prioritize publishing data over publishing web sites. Reserve periodic publishing for generating community awareness about continuously reported indicators. Use the open data portal, determine which indicators VB citizens care about, and tell stories using that data.

General Recommendations

Accessibility

Ensure that digital services are accessible to the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless. Accessibility goes beyond providing enhanced support for people with physical disabilities, which is necessary but not sufficient.

Accessibility also means that digital services are available over the internet and can be accessed by SMS text and smart phones as well as laptop and desktop computers. Accessing digital services should not require a broadband connection, though it is understood that some services will be enhanced with broadband. If possible, provide broadband to at-risk communities away from the HRC so that they can access digital services provided by the HRC.

HTTPS APIs

Require all software providers to support hyperlinked data and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) over secure hypertext transfer protocol (HTTPS). HTTPS accessible APIs enable secure, reliable exchange of data between organizations that are not on the same intranet. HTTPS APIs also enable dynamic and realtime reporting beyond the capabilities of individual software components.

Open Data, Licensing, and Copyrights

Use City of Virginia Beach’s Open Data Services. City of Virginia Beach made important and useful investments in software services from Socrata and ESRI to store and provide access to data in a manner consistent with all objectives in this plan related to data and information technology. These services are useful in connecting the many different groups who will produce and consume information throughout the implementation of this plan.

Ensure that all third-party agreements, copyrights, licenses, and practices conform to City of Virginia Beach “Open Data Policy - Open VB Administrative Directive” (Index AD 2.14)
https://www.vbgov.com/opendata/Documents/Governance/Administrative%20Directive.pdf

Specifically, ensure non-PII source data used by 3rd parties, ex., Charity Tracker, is first in the online public domain or published online with a highly permissive license. Ensure data produced by third parties on behalf of the public is published online with the same permissions. Ensure that software used to produce data and analysis provides application programming interfaces (APIs) and hyperlinked access to data and analytic products in non-proprietary formats. Ensure that data stored by software is available online for bulk download.

Resources

BERGEN COUNTY HOUSING, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES CENTER
http://habcnj.org/bergen-county-housing-health-and-human-services-center/
http://habcnj.org/staff/
120 South River Street
Hackensack, NJ 07601
201-336-6491 Fax: 201-343-2312

Engage the community to shape a new affordable housing strategy
https://www.codeforamerica.org/how-tos/engage-community-to-shape-new-housing-strategy

Ensure everyone can participate
https://www.codeforamerica.org/resources/providing-access/community-engagement

Code for America Brigade’s Civic Tech Project Search
http://brigade.codeforamerica.org/brigade/projects?q=affordable+housing

References

Robinson, Yu, et al (2009). Government Data and the Invisible Hand
http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1048&context=yjolt

A copy of this statement is published here:
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1X-7MzjtN8QTIuELpeCuq-yFKg4aSKUMY_bn7Zv3X3mA/edit?usp=sharing

Sharon PAYNE inside Kempsville August 27, 2017, 4:49 PM

I am heartened to see the city continue to work toward permanent solutions to homelessness. The objectives outlined are broad, not observable and measureable and the strength of the next step forward will be in the implementation. Training for all persons working in the system is key to assuring consistency. This is likely one of the biggest hurdles because of the number of stakeholders we are expecting to work together. As the 2013 plan said, we can no longer operate with "business as usual." Outcomes based interventions must be implemented in every area of the system and accountability for using those must be built in as well. When we keep the mission at the forefront, the hope is that all will see the need to do things differently. One concern that I continue to hear is that the new housing resource center will become a shelter by default. We simply can't allow that to happen. As the 2013 report said, we need to provide a "trampoline," not a safety net.

Thelma Carroll inside Centerville August 19, 2017, 1:40 PM

I was at a 4th Precinct CAC presentation on this program. I support the concept of a campus approach with services and some housing available at the center on Witchduck. It is a central location near the Town Center. It will take a coordinated approach to end homelessness with job training and other services. I congratulate the leadership behind these efforts and applaud progress already made on behalf of veterans.

Roger Weeden inside Princess Anne August 18, 2017, 8:55 PM

Kudos and thanks to Virginia Beach for addressing this important issue and attempting to find some sort of solution. However, it's an attempt. For those of us who are engaged with these individuals,through volunteer opportunities and social interaction, I know that many of these folks don't want to live that far from the oceanfront. This may even present more camps being set up as folks attempt to relocate back to the oceanfront. Transportation - HRT bus system can't always be relied upon and there are going to be issues with transportation, especially in that area. This "solution" may assist those families and individuals who are in need but as far as a plan to end homelessness..better keep planning. This 'solution' may help those whose conditions are not so dire but unfortunately there are still going to be individuals who must live in vehicles and tents during January. I hope it truly does make some sort of impact but I think it will affect very few. Virginia Beach needs to really face the fact, more than it seems to do already, that this city has a large and growing number of homeless individuals. The answer is not to push them out or force them out but to integrate them into society. Most are homeless for a reason and anyone of us could be in their position.

mark raunser inside Bayside August 13, 2017, 9:12 AM

great job on this issue. so many needing assistance. bravo Zulu to city council.

Alan Wakefield inside Lynnhaven August 10, 2017, 12:51 PM

I know homelessness personally years ago caused by a divorce. This can tear apart a family and leave people with out a job, a place to live and all the other needs as humans. The city is making a giant step forward with providing housing. Homelessness has so many causes and needs though; it is difficult to end. Mental health is such a large part of the problem, and takes a longer time to deal with and come to a positive resolution. I applaud the city in this endeavor but many services will have to be linked to slow/end homelessness.

Linda Pickard inside Princess Anne August 6, 2017, 2:34 PM

Homelessness is a complex issue. However I believe concentrating efforts to combat that issue only at the oceanfront is too narrow in scope. If you research homelessness, there are many municipalities across the nation going in the direction of tiny house campuses with resources located either in or near those campuses. This could also be used to help not only the chronically homeless but also low-income families & students in addition to those fleeing domestic violence. Perhaps if people/families are included, then the homless won't feel "singled out". For example:

Tiny Houses for the Homeless: An Affordable Solution Catches On

A growing number of towns and cities have found a practical solution to homelessness through the construction of tiny-house villages—and housing officials are taking notice.

by Erika Lundahl

On a Saturday in September, more than 125 volunteers showed up with tools in hand and built six new 16-by-20-foot houses for a group of formerly homeless men. It was the beginning of Second Wind Cottages, a tiny-house village for the chronically homeless in the town of Newfield, N.Y., outside of Ithaca. On January 29, the village officially opened, and its first residents settled in. Each house had cost about $10,000 to build, a fraction of what it would have cost to house the men in a new apartment building. The project is part of a national movement of tiny-house villages, an alternative approach to housing the homeless that's beginning to catch the interest of national advocates and government housing officials alike.

Jill Burton inside Beach August 5, 2017, 4:01 PM

The city of Virginia Beach needs more accessible, affordable housing. Affordable housing is a big factor in homelessness, and Virginia Beach rentals are not cheap. Easier access to quality healthcare would be impact homelessness as well. The count of homeless in Virginia Beach you provided was hard to believe. The data of children at risk... seemed closer to accurate. Lots of folks homeless in VIrginia Beach, which for me includes, couch surfing and hotel living.

Debbie Hague inside Lynnhaven August 4, 2017, 3:09 PM

There seems to be many parts to this problem. First, there are severely mentally ill and those with substance abuse problems that need help but may not want it. It is important that something is done for these people because unfortunately if they know it or not, their actions do not coincide with Virginia Beach's "family atmosphere". For instance, some of our homeless population sleep under the pier and are unruly at the beach. Tourists with families do not want their children exposed to those behaviors. There needs to be more assistance for the mentally ill in our state.
Secondly, the federal government needs to address the problems that are associated with our Veterans. Local government and state government officials need to actively address that issue and create a solution with all levels of government. It should be a priority with our legislators but I have not heard it discussed.
Lastly, the homeless who may be in that situation for a small time or are there because of abuse etc may want to work. There needs to be more involvement by our city to set up addresses so they can be paid, banks so that they can cash checks and Identification cards so they can provide what is needed for employees.

R Hughes inside Princess Anne August 4, 2017, 12:33 PM

It is time for a coordinated effort that addresses not only homelessness but those who are one paycheck away from becoming homeless. Churches need to be in one central location for people to get help, rather than have to spend time and transportation money going from church to church to piece together enough of money to keep the water or electricity on. Prevention is part of the homeless problem. I commend the city for a well thought out plan for ending homelessness. It should not happen in a city as prosperous as ours. The plan needs to incorporate proper referrals and follow up for physical and mental health services, including addictions.