Bethesda Project touts its reputation as “the last resort” for the chronically homeless, and that means the nonprofit approaches the issue a bit differently than other homelessness providers.
Its programming is designed to adapt to the personal needs of every homeless individual in its care — an approach that sounds like it might be inherently difficult to scale.
“No two people exit street homelessness in the same way. They just don’t,” said Misty Sparks, director of entry-level programs at Bethesda Project. “We tailor services and programming to each person. It’s about keeping the program model so simple that it can re-adapt to every person who comes through.”
That program model, said Chief Development Officer Kathy Meck, envelopes the nonprofit’s mission: To be family to the 2,500 men and women who come through each of Bethesda Project’s 13 locations across the city.
It’s a three-pronged approach to fighting homelessness along a Continuum of Care (a government term for the system of progression in homelessness from chronic street homelessness to stable housing):
- Housing. Putting a roof over someone’s head and “helping them live in the most independent setting possible,” Meck said.
- Case management. Every individual has access to a case manager who helps them develop a care plan dependent upon their needs and goals — the latter which can range from managing medical conditions better to attaining stable housing.
- Community life. Each of Bethesda’s 13 locations across the city has its own personality and culture, Meck said, and is powered by hundreds of volunteers who help curate that.
Here’s what makes that model scalable: Bethesda operates in facilities owned by partners, making its programming lean and flexible.
But that individualized approach to fighting homelessness also makes measuring impact a challenge. How do you quantify the impact of such a personalized, malleable strategy?
Bethesda does it by measuring “positive housing moves” — anything from moving from a shelter to permanent housing to rekindling relationships with estranged family. That metric is supplemented by each individual’s average length of stay and life skills indicators (financial literacy training, job applications, etc.).
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“We’re looking at our data now and talking about impact on a much deeper scale. It’s been a challenge because we’re not always thinking about how we move a person out of our care,” Meck said. “It’s how we care for those who can’t care for themselves or don’t have the supports to do so. It’s such a personal thing that it’s sometimes hard for us to talk about aggregate impact.”-30-
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