How the power of collaboration housed 25 people in 60 days

Piloting a program that brings a housing navigator to the homeless, we found success with housing.

How do you end homelessness? One person at a time. The reasons that someone experiences homelessness are so unique, there isn’t one housing method that works for everyone. This is why consistent outreach is so important.

A few months ago, United Way of the Plains and Impact ICT Continuum of Care piloted a new program to see what we could do to address homelessness, individual by individual.

United Way is the lead agency for Impact ICT, a coalition of 170+ people representing: nonprofits; faith community; federal, state, and local governments; businesses; and other community advocates. Together, the coalition works to resolve homelessness by identifying and addressing barriers to permanent housing, coordinating resources and annually applying for grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The program sent one of our staff members to United Methodist Open Door’s Homeless Resource Center (UMOD) to do what’s called ‘coordinated entry.’

Coordinated entry is a process of assessing the needs of someone who is homeless, looking at their unique circumstances and matching them to the best possible housing resource.

In our case, we sent Jaraya Reynolds, a housing navigator at the Continuum of Care lead by United Way of the Plains. For just a few hours once a week, she set up a booth at the UMOD, to talk with their homeless clients one-on-one after their basic needs of medical care, showers, and meals were met.  With time, she built the relationships that were the first step on the path to housing.

Jaraya Reynolds, United Way Continuum of Care Housing Navigator, meets with a client.

“It just took using a more personal one-on-one approach. I met with them in a comfortable space, talked to them and made a personal connection. Our area partners worked closely with each other and with me to accomplish some measurable and positive results,” said Reynolds.

In 60 day, she built relationships with dozens of people experiencing homelessness and with the assistance of area agencies was able to house 25 of them.

“I care because I can see that there is housing available and people experiencing homelessness aren’t always aware of their options or know the steps. It just takes one person to stand up and say I can help. And I know I can help them.”

How taking the battle to end homelessness meets the front line.

Our pilot program not only has shown success in housing people, but revealed a bigger need in our community: Housing navigators. Those experiencing homelessness need someone to help connect them to housing.

Headshot of Julia Orlando, expert on ending homelessness.

“Even while we are doing the good work of everyday services, we have to always make sure that we are working to end people’s homelessness, not to continue to keep them within our system.”

– Julia Orlando, expert on ending homelessness

By setting up our program at UMOD’s day shelter, we are able to meet and engage with people where they feel safe and we can identify the root cause of their homelessness to connect them to the best housing resource available.

“This is the homeless front line. This is the easiest place for us to do the most amount of work,” said Josh Watkins, UMOD’s homeless services director.

Watkins oversees programs that help UMOD’s clients who are homeless. Clients come to UMOD’s shelter to escape bitter cold along with many other reasons and from there, they can make the choice to meet with us. Not only is Watkins excited to see the pilot program work, he is ready to see it grow.

“Jaraya is just a fraction of the success we can experience if we partner together with the rest of the organizations. If we work together, we can end homelessness.”

Headshot of Josh Watkins, homeless services director with United Methodist Open Door.
One hour to change a life.

Where can we find more housing navigators?

Recently, we worked with our partners in the Continuum of Care to training someone to replicate what Reynolds has been doing but more help is needed.

You don’t have to be an expert to help. In fact, Reynolds is recruiting community members to  volunteer.

“I’m always encouraging volunteers because the need is growing,” Reynold shared.

The process of performing coordinated entry doesn’t have to be intimidating for either the client or the volunteer housing navigator. When you start to think of someone experiencing homelessness as a neighbor, your perspective shifts.

The reality is homelessness affects people of all walks of life. It could be someone who escaped domestic violence, who lost their job or who fell behind on rent because of a medical bill. Someone you know has had this happen to them and without a support system, they could have become homeless.

If we could take our pilot program to scale, we could bring homelessness to functional zero – a metric that means we have less people entering homelessness than leaving homelessness. This is our goal. To make homelessness, brief, rare and non-recurring for all our neighbors in Sedgwick County.

Reynolds is ready and so are we. “It takes an hour out to go help someone change their whole life. Can you help?”

Are you ready to join us to end homelessness? Contact Jaraya Reynolds at United Way of the Plains at or (316) 267-1321 ext. 4154.


Published On: February 9, 2023Tags:


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