Interviewed by Rachel Ralston, LDC Principal

We are excited to announce the newest addition to the LDC team, Mitch Wippern, who is joining us as a Senior Principal on the Homelessness Solutions Team! Mitch has more than 20 years of experience designing, implementing, and managing change initiatives in public sector agencies. He led the redesign and implementation of Napa County’s supportive housing and homelessness services system, transforming it from an isolated, high-barrier, low-performance system to an integrated, low-barrier, high-performing system. He also wrote and led the implementation of Napa’s Whole Person Care Pilot and helped to develop Napa’s No Place Like Home application.

“Communities across the country are facing the same challenges that I navigated in my public sector career,” Mitch said. “Housing costs and the numbers of homeless households across the state are up, and the challenges we all face in addressing the increase in homelessness and the demands for affordable housing are increasingly complex.”

We asked Mitch to tell us a bit more about his previous work and where he sees opportunities for innovation across affordable housing and homelessness systems. Here’s what he had to say.

LDC: What are some of the proudest achievements from your public sector housing and homelessness work that will inform your work at LDC?

I am extremely proud of the work that I led redesigning and implementing the homelessness and supportive housing system in Napa County, and of the system that we collectively built. That work involved changing the framework of the outreach, service, and supportive housing systems. It was successful because I was able to help the community accept the need to adopt and implement new approaches like Housing First, low-barrier shelters, and Coordinated Entry. The result is a system that is much more effective in meeting the needs of the community, both in reducing chronic homelessness and in increasing housing placements and stability.

Another of my proudest public sector achievements was encouraging participation from healthcare, philanthropic, law enforcement, and housing partners in efforts to address community needs. Creating that space meant more participation, more resources, and more commitment across the board. One notable achievement was a partnership between the County, the City Housing Authority, an affordable housing developer, and the local Veteran’s Administration Office to assign 17 project-based vouchers to a new housing project. Three of the vouchers were allocated to the newly adopted Coordinated Entry System. Broadening the base of participation in efforts to end homelessness is important and difficult work. It is also work that communities need to do to be successful in their efforts to end homelessness.

LDC: What skillsets and work experiences are you carrying into LDC to help our clients and partners address the affordable housing and homelessness crises in our state?

I understand the pressures that public agencies face with reduced funding and increased service demands. I have helped elected bodies to better understand complex issues and to adopt solutions that meet the needs of the entire community. I led the Napa Continuum of Care through a major redesign of the homelessness and supportive housing services system while we also adopted policies, procedures, and processes to meet the requirements of the HEARTH Act, implemented the Coordinated Entry System, and reduced system duplication. The systems that I helped to build in Napa continue to pay dividends to the community.

LDC: In your opinion, what are the next frontiers and evolving innovation opportunities in affordable housing and homelessness systems change?

It is clearer now than it has ever been that the solutions that are the most successful in addressing homelessness and supportive/affordable housing are those that are built on collaborative cross-sector systems. That combined with the new funding streams that are quickly being deployed by the state mean that agencies need to be able to respond and partner in new, quicker, and more flexible ways than they have in the past.

Agencies–nonprofit, for-profit, or public sector – all are designed to protect their own resources and systems. Successfully addressing the complexities of homelessness and affordable housing means developing cross-sector solutions that break these arbitrary barriers.

We all need to be data driven, open to new partnerships, and willing to look at contract and funding relationships in ways that might seem uncomfortable at the outset, but breaking down silos, maximizing the flexibility of available funding, and sharing and openly analyzing data are the frontiers and innovations on which we need to focus.

LDC: What do you hope our clients and partners will call you to talk about first?

I’d love to talk with our clients and partners about helping them build more flexibility and responsiveness into their homelessness services and supportive housing systems. Many jurisdictions have a short window of time in which to maximize new state funds and position themselves to be competitive for funds that will soon be available. I am looking forward to helping clients and partners design systems and programs that meet their specific needs and enable them to compete for any new funds the state may release. My goal is to have our clients and partners reach out me so that we can talk about how to design solutions that work in their community.

Mitch is based in Northern California and is reachable at mitch@lesardevelopment.com.