Jan Demers: Homelessness tool — we were skeptical

Showers are available every Tuesday and Thursday at the Red Door Church for those in the community who need them. This safe space also offers an opportunity for connection to resources for those who are experiencing homelessness. One guest came for a shower, took a VI-SPDAT and found a home. “Are you for real?” he said. He was skeptical to say the least. He had been homeless for years, living in camps and occasionally, when it got really cold, in an Emergency General Assistance Hotel.
The VI-SPDAT is a Vulnerability Index-Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool. It is an assessment to prioritize those who are in the most danger from being homeless.  These are the people that go to the top of the list for available housing that comes with permanent support.
It asks questions like:  How long has it been since you lived in permanent stable housing? In the past six months have you received care at an emergency room, taken an ambulance, been hospitalized, used a crisis service for sexual assault, mental health crisis; been beaten up or threatened. There are five pages of questions that together create a vulnerability score.   
Chittenden County has been using the VI-SPDAT for four years. It started when there was an effort to find out the names of everyone who was homeless and implement a plan to house those in need starting with the most vulnerable. The result:
•  A 56 percent decrease in chronic homelessness.
•  A 26 percent reduction in family homelessness.
•  A 42 percent reduction in homelessness among people with severe mental illness.
•  A 70 percent reduction in homelessness among those affected by a substance use disorder.
These results were taken from an annual Point in Time Count survey.
Those decreases are not magical but come out of a willingness to push through skepticism, hard work, pooling hard to get resources and through a process called Coordinated Entry. Chris Brzovic is the Coordinated Entry Coordinator and has been with the project throughout the entire four years. “There are so many barriers to overcome: criminal history, past due debt, cycling through service providers, mental health and substance abuse challenges. I was skeptical, but no longer. I’m excited when I look back and see how we have changed. We match the right person to the right program.”
“Our goal is to make homelessness rare and brief. It took a litany of acronyms to get us where we are today: the VI-SPDAT, CEDO, VISTAs, BHA, HOP, CHT, CVOEO, First UMC, STEPS, United Way, Safe Harbor, COTS, SPECTRUM, VA, CCHA, Pathways and more.”
The finish line is still in the distance, but there is a plan and it works. It takes prioritization through the assessment process, targeting the most vulnerable and making sure we are not losing anyone. Most of all it takes working together with one goal. We are all needed to reach that goal.
Do you want to untangle the alphabet soup found above? Follow this link: cvoeo.org/acronym.

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