Last month, LA Family Housing sent eight staff to the National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference. This conference is a convening of service providers, advocates, people with lived experience, and leaders to share ideas, solutions, and best practices in our work to end homelessness in people’s lives. We asked two of our staff to share their experiences and takeaways from this year’s conference:
Why do you think this conference is important?
Ashley: This conference is an important way to bring people together for a common goal, and to build new connections or strengthen existing ones. Key note speakers that were engaging and authentic, and reinforced the importance of the work that we do and that we are a part of something truly meaningful. Additionally, I think having the exposure to a variety of people, points of views, and workshops presents attendees with the opportunity learn new ideas and approaches, and to maintain their passion for this work.
Noe: The NAEH conference provides the opportunity to network and learn from other service providers, leaders, and advocates who are working toward ending homelessness. This conference not only allows attendees to learn about new strategies, but also to compare their own services to those of other service providers and brainstorm solutions to similar challenges. Attending conferences allows room to bond with peers and empower change.
What are your top takeaways from the conference?
Ashley: I went to a workshop on Education and Homeless Children. The presenters touched on the fact that we tend to focus on the adults when working with a family, but it’s also important that we bring the voice of the children into our work with families as much as we can. I also heard this quote from one of the presenters and it resonated with me, “When someone becomes homeless, its because their network broke.”
Noe: It’s hard to choose! One of my takeaways was around strength-based case management in correlation to funding: “it is important we pursue funding as a strategy and not as a program.” An example of this is not seeking funding to hire more staff, but instead to have choices/options for a household seeking solution(s). Another takeaway for me was that harm-reduction has long-term benefits, such as establishing connections built on trust and safety, but also becomes a teaching moment to build on small successes.
Another key message: “If you are just focusing on tools (i.e. rental assistance) as opposed to natural support systems then you missed the boat on stabilizing,” therefore much of our work needs to be in helping our participants allocate natural supports.
And finally, we must promote equity by giving everyone what they need to be successful a.k.a. “leveling the playing field.”
What was your favorite session at the conference and why?
Ashley: My favorite session of the conference was “The Incremental Strategy of Harm Reduction.” The presenter was interactive with attendees, and he designed his workshop on teaching people something tangible that could be brought back to the office and shared to fellow team members. He referenced working with a participant and provided them with a bus token wrapped in a business card -- this was his way of creating a safety plan and implementing harm reduction with the participant. It was a helpful refresher on the components of harm reduction and relevant tips to implement these approaches into practice with participants.
Noe: My favorite session was “Unraveling the Mysteries of Workforce Systems and Building Partnerships” in which I learned how public workforce agencies and homeless service providers have taken a step to change by allowing their participant databases/systems to communicate with one another, so that workforce and homeless services can be streamlined. This session allowed me to think on a larger scale and brainstorm on ways that I can expand my work in employment services to benefit the agency, its participants, and their long-term stabilization.
How will the conference shape your work at LA Family Housing?
Ashley: I am in the thick of things every day and it can be difficult to find time to take a step back to reflect and learn new ways to build upon the existing systems. I think this conference will shape my work in the following ways: to allow myself the time and space I need to focus on program needs beyond the day-to-day tasks, new learning and information that will be shared with my team, and an increased level of respect and appreciation for everyone that shows up everyday to do this work.
Noe: This conference has given me to tools and information to educate and motivate others, to challenge systems, and to create change that will aid all. In employment services, it will allow me to implement better case management practices with our program participants by utilizing a harm reduction approach for those who need it or strength-based case management, and more importantly, help participants allocate natural supports. In addition, I plan to start harnessing the power of participants with lived experiences as future peer advocates, and start taking the steps needed to help integrate homeless services and workforce systems.