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New Solutions for Ending Homelessness in Illinois

PHOTO: A nonprofit with ambitious goals to erase homelessness in Illinois through "supportive housing" has learned that success takes more than a permanent address. Photo credit: Microsoft Images
PHOTO: A nonprofit with ambitious goals to erase homelessness in Illinois through "supportive housing" has learned that success takes more than a permanent address. Photo credit: Microsoft Images
December 31, 2013

CHICAGO - A nonprofit that works to end homelessness in Illinois has taken a page from the playbook of big corporations, by scrutinizing its own employees. The Corporation for Supportive Housing has long advocated for the view that solving homelessness takes more than providing a place to live; it takes an investment in people.

According to CEO Deborah De Santis, the group's leadership spent time this year to invest in their own people. They identified top talent and developed a succession plan so they won't stumble, since employee turnover is common in the nonprofit world.

"If someone tells you they're leaving, and you say, 'Oh my goodness. That's it. It's all over now,'" it means there's been a lack of planning. "We wanted to really be assertive about what the opportunities are to bring new people into the organization."

She said their goal is to be seamless in providing help to solve homelessness, and in Illinois, there's a special focus on veterans, with a system for providing health and mental health services along with apartments.

James Shepard, CEO of AchieveMission, helped CSH through the process of changing the way they think about employees, in order to be more effective in solving homelessness. He said it's usually a surprise when organizations realize money isn't their biggest stumbling block.

"You can't implement the strategy if you don't have the right people," he said. "And for many, many, many nonprofits, it's the people that is the impediment to their growth."

CSH's experience is documented in a case study, "A Smart Investment in Human Capital," from the Annie E. Casey Foundation as an example to other nonprofits.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - IL