As county Homeless Services Coordinator, lifelong Lawrence resident hopes to help agencies gather better data, find more funding opportunities
photo by: Contributed
If Douglas County agencies want more money to address homelessness, they’ll need to apply for more grants — and that will require them to collect more and better data.
That’s what Kristen Egan has been emphasizing since she began serving as Douglas County’s Homeless Services Coordinator at the beginning of May.
Not to be confused with the City of Lawrence’s homeless programs coordinator, the county position is intended to paint with a broader brush, supporting a coordinated approach to homelessness that involves many agencies and stakeholders in the county.
Egan, a lifelong Lawrence resident, has worked in recent years to coordinate care for folks with behavioral health needs at Heartland Community Health Center and served in a couple of roles with the Kansas Statewide Homeless Coalition. She told the Journal-World Tuesday that she wants to use her social welfare experience to help Douglas County agencies gather better data on homelessness that they can then leverage to pursue more funding.
Egan’s most recent role with the Kansas Statewide Homeless Coalition was as a “boundary spanner,” which involved assisting with coordinating housing access across nearly the entire state. That meant she saw firsthand what was and wasn’t effective across a variety of communities, from urban to rural.
“It was a good way for me to see the differences in how it can work, how it’s supposed to work and how sometimes it doesn’t work,” Egan told the Journal-World.
What Egan learned was that agencies dedicated to housing issues in Douglas County aren’t applying for as much grant money as they could be, and correcting that will start with bolstering the data they’re collecting.
“I think that we all know that we have a pretty large number of homeless folks, and in fact probably only half of them are counted in the coordinated entry system,” Egan said. “I think the first step to getting enough funding is to know how much funding we need, and that’s through data.”
That would be the potential jumping-off point for some of Egan’s other goals, like playing a part in the City of Lawrence and Douglas County’s joint strategic plan for tackling housing and homelessness. The plan’s goal is to achieve “functional zero” homelessness by 2028, meaning the number of people experiencing homelessness never exceeds the community’s capacity to move folks into permanent housing.
Getting there will mean increasing the amount of affordable housing in the community. There’s a dearth in housing in Douglas County in general, especially in that type of rental housing, and Egan said that makes for an unfortunate cycle for the vulnerable population of folks experiencing chronic homelessness.
Egan said more supportive housing, specifically, is key. Some unhoused folks don’t need more than just a consistent roof over their heads to get back on their feet, and they are better candidates for rapid re-housing programs — interventions designed for people who don’t need intensive or ongoing supports to quickly exit homelessness and return to permanent housing. On the other hand, Egan said other people experiencing chronic homelessness need housing that will give them wraparound support services even after they’re moved in, and if they don’t get it, Egan said they’ll often become homeless again before long.
“It’s this cycle of trauma that slowly gets worse and worse,” Egan said.
It helps, though, that Egan said agencies in Douglas County seem “encouraged” — that they want to do the work, but aren’t entirely sure how to do it together. She said helping them build that network will be another important part of her work.
Egan said she’s looking forward to building relationships with outreach workers at a wide range of organizations, including Tenants to Homeowners, Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and the county’s Housing Stabilization Collaborative, which focuses on keeping people from losing their existing housing.