Partnering Up to Prevent Homelessness

Collaboration is key in the City of Lincoln – especially during these challenging times. Agencies and non-profits regularly join forces to achieve amazing things. Sometimes the relationships come together at the right moment to form something much larger than anyone could imagine.   

That was the case with the Lincoln Prevention Assistance Common Fund (LPAC). LPAC is a partnership between the City of Lincoln Urban Development Department, UNL Center on Children, Families, and the Law (CCFL), and the Lincoln Community Foundation. The partnership formed to distribute funds to Lincoln residents from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. 

The local economy has been impacted by the pandemic in many ways:  job reductions and furloughs, business closings, employees forced to leave the workforce to care for children no longer in schools and daycares. The ripple-effect through the workforce made it clear that if actions were not taken soon, people would be at risk of homelessness, many for the first time in their lives.   

Lincoln is familiar with issues surrounding homelessness and has been working aggressively to create solutions as well as develop affordable housing. The Center for Children Families and the Law (CCFL) has been identifying and assessing the most vulnerable among the City’s homeless population through their coordinated entry system, called All Doors Lead Home (ADLH). This system provides people and families experiencing homelessness multiple public and private access points in the City to be assessed for housing assistance.   

Public access points include Center Pointe, Matt Talbot Kitchen and Outreach, Family Service, People’s City Mission, The Hub, CEDARS and Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders Counties. Any person or family experiencing homelessness in Lincoln can visit these public access points to be assessed and referred by the coordinated entry staff.   

ADLH has been addressing the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness in Lincoln for the past four years, however the assessment of individuals and families at risk of becoming homeless, known simply as prevention, is a new component of the coordinated entry system.   

“Prevention was going to be a piece of All Doors Lead Home,” says Denise Packard, the Coordinated Entry Manager for CCFL. “We were already planning to go live with prevention and coordinated entry, however the pandemic made us do it in double-time.”   

The City already had a strong working relationship with CCFL, due to their involvement with the continuum of care in the Lincoln Homeless Coalition. It made sense for the City to partner with CCFL on CARES Act funding because of their existing relationship and framework for assessing homelessness.   

“When we found out we would be receiving these funds, it seemed like a good fit,” said Wynn Hjermstad, the Community Development Manager in the City’s Urban Development Department.  

The next step was bringing in an organization to manage the multiple streams of funding. Much of the funding came in the form of CARES Response and Recovery funds through Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Other funds came from Emergency Solutions Grants and Community Development Block Grants. Each of these funding sources have different eligibility requirements that needed to be adhered to. Having multiple agencies manage the different funds would involve significant overhead.    

That’s when the Lincoln Community Foundation stepped in.  

LCF and the City’s Urban Development Department had already been working together to address Prosper Lincoln’s community agenda focus area of Affordable Housing. The pieces were now in place:  homeless management, prevention, and continuum of care are now centralized through ADLH, and flowing through one payment processor, LCF.  

Getting the program off the ground was not an easy task. CCFL only had months to create a prevention process to integrate in the existing coordinated entry system. LCF had to pivot employee time and resources to process the payments.   

“We were building the plane while we were flying it,” said Michelle Paulk, Vice President Community Outreach at LCF.   

That plane was the vehicle that helped many Lincolnites navigate through turbulence. Since July, more than $2.5M in rent, mortgage and utility assistance has been distributed to more than 850 households, many who received assistance are families with children.  

“I learned we can do so many different things,” said Michelle. “The Foundation can be helpful to the community by being that neutral convener, that neutral place that can distribute funds and make a big impact on folks who need rapid assistance.”  

“I always knew our community is pretty darn awesome, but this solidifies it for me,” said Denise. “Our partnership with the City and the Foundation has been wonderful. It makes me realize you can move mountains when you put your mind to it.”