A Continuum of Care for the Homeless
Founded in 1992, West Suburban PADS, with an operating budget of $2.96 million in 2014, served individuals who are chronically homeless, experiencing homelessness, or at risk of becoming homeless and worked to transition people from housing crisis to housing stability. Core programs included: emergency shelter services; case management services; and supportive/permanent housing services. Prevail, celebrating its 10-year anniversary at the time of engagement, and with an operating budget of $255,000, provided supportive services; including emergency assistance and referrals; job readiness training; and financial literacy training to individuals and families facing financial crisis.
The organizations saw opportunities for synergy and for providing a continuum of financial and housing services for their diverse clients. Prevail served people facing financial crisis and thus at risk of becoming homeless or who had recently become homeless, and PADS clients were often in need of job training and supportive employment services.
The two organizations had a history of collaboration, including referring clients for services to each other and outsourcing their IT functions to the same company. Determined to develop a plan for sustainability of the agency’s well-known and respected programming, Prevail was interested in exploring opportunities to collaborate with a larger agency.
Upon a feasibility analysis provided by Mission + Strategy, the organizations saw opportunities for collaboration on programs to create a continuum of services for homeless prevention/emergency assistance and career services/job readiness programs; and sharing administrative services such as fundraising, and other infrastructure needs.
Prevail programs had an excellent reputation across the communities they served, and so the PADS Board and staff were quickly enthusiastic about the merger. That said, organization change always comes with some challenges. One of the most significant challenges was Prevail’s fear of losing the agency’s name and identity, which was very important to them. Ultimately, neither name was kept for the merged organization; the consolidated organization was re-named Housing Forward, and the Prevail name was preserved by re-naming their programs Prevail Employment Readiness and Prevail Emergency Assistance.
Prevail staff also has to get accustomed to more structured vacation and HR policies, which were more nimble at the previously small agency.
To help Prevail and West Suburban PADS determine the best course of action for their engagement, M+S designed and facilitated a feasibility analysis to explore the potential benefits and challenges of a strategic restructuring. M+S helped the organizations explore opportunities to share and consolidate back-office services (including finance/accounting, HR, fundraising, IT, and purchasing) as well as shared program consolidation.
Following the feasibility analysis and deep exploration of the advantages and barriers to various types of mergers, the two organizations decided to move forward with merging their organizations, the integration process and the re-branding process.
Through the merger, the organizations were able to eliminate duplication of services, creating capacity to expand services areas and the array of services for clients. Additionally, the organizations were able to have a more robust program presence through consolidating and enhancing program capacity. Since the merger, Housing Forward has been able to have an employee dedicated to developing employer relationships in the community, resulting in 70 new employer relations and 50 new training program relations, and they have been more successful in placing clients in employment programs.
Finally, partnering positioned the organizations for additional funding, by increasing the capacity of the organizations to pursue and compete for grants. Due in large part to the merger and the incorporation of the Prevail Oak Park office location, Housing Forward is now eligible to become a walk-in center for coordinated entry, receiving federal funding to serve as the lead agency for coordinated entry services for Cook County.
Look at it as an opportunity, not as a rescue; look at it as another step in growth and opportunity for your agency to continue to do the good work it’s doing.
—Christie Harris, former Prevail Executive Director, currently Prevail Program Director