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The Concept of Program Reengineering

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| The Concept of Program Reengineering | Modern Public Administration PAD 500 | Professor William Roberts | Torrence J. Bellamy | 2/25/2012 |

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The Concept of Program Reengineering

The case study of Mayor Schell’s Zero Homeless Family Strategy discusses the homeless problem in Seattle, Washington (King County) and the strategies used to address the problem. Mayor starts his term off with a dramatic pledge that there would be no homeless families with children or any homeless single women on the streets of Seattle by Christmas of that year (some six months from date of pledge). The pledge itself might easily be viewed as a political move to provide a “quick-fix” solution to a very complex and long-standing problem. While Mayor Schell’s policy choices in this matter had some success, they were met with scrutiny and counter proposals by homeless advocacy groups and city financial managers. This paper provides an analysis of the mayor’s policy choices, analysis of the pre-implementation and design strategies, as well as discussion of steps taken to reengineer the program. It also addresses the importance of conducting proper assessments before implementing new programs. The policy choices related to Mayor Schell’s plan to address homelessness include: targeting homeless families with children and single women for “immediate emergency assistance”; focus on creating affordable housing; expanding shelter and/or emergency housing availability; and providing more funding for homeless prevention. According to the case study, over 700 of the 1,300 homeless people sleeping on the streets were in the target population contained in Mayor Schell’s June 1998 pledge that there would be no homeless families with children or homeless single women on the streets of Seattle by Christmas of that year. The case study does not make it clear if the mayor had done any specific studies of the demographics of Seattle’s homeless population or relied on the current city accounting in order to target families with children and single women. This particular policy choice could have been made considering the political impact that such an apparently compassionate commitment would make or it could have been made with the mayor’s recognition of the growing trend of these target populations in the homeless arena. Considering the identified lack of availability of shelter beds for these distinct populations at the time of the pledge, this policy choice led to another policy choice, increase of shelter space or some type of alternate housing. The policy choice of expanding shelter housing and providing alternative housing such as hotel vouchers involves allocation of funds. As the mayor made the commitment, this means that funds in the city’s budget would have to be used to accomplish the mission. At this point, the mayor is faced with a situation that public administrators often face, efficiency versus responsiveness. Over the years the city had focused funds on supporting low income housing and providing homeless programs and social services. One of the Homeless Advisory Committee’s preferred strategies in addressing homelessness, at that time, was to not increase the existing shelter capacity but use additional funds for services and housing. According to an article entitled “No Home for the Holidays” that was published in the Seattle Weekly newspaper on December 23, 1998, the $500,000 that the mayor allocated was estimated to be only a tenth of the funds needed to provide emergency shelter to all in need. That article indicated that up until that date, only one new facility for women had been created with a 25-bed capacity with a possibility of adding 15 more. Plans were in the works for one additional shelter with a 25-bed capacity. Much of the funding allocated by the mayor went towards the emphasis placed on providing motel vouchers. It appears that responsiveness was the prevailing factor in the policy choices of targeting certain groups of homeless persons and expanding shelter space. Another policy choice of the mayor’s was to provide funding to assist families from becoming homeless. Those funds were primarily allocated to emergency rental assistance and hotel vouchers. While homeless prevention is certainly critical to eradicating homelessness, stop- gap measures like emergency rental assistance and temporary hotel stays do not encompass all the services needed to support families or individuals at risk of homelessness. These measures respond to crisis situations, which is needed, however homeless prevention must comprehensively address the many factors that lead to homelessness, such as affordable housing, viable employment, mental health and substance abuse issues. According to the “No Home for the Holidays” article that was published in the Seattle Weekly newspaper on December 23, 1998, the mayor’s spokesperson indicated that the mayor’s intent was “to keep low-income families in their houses and apartments rather than build more shelters to house them”. There is no indication as to whether the strategic planning needed to make this concept a reality was ever done in any pluralistic manner.
The policy choice of creating affordable housing was perhaps the most controversial. One of Mayor Schell’s first steps shortly after taking office was to hold a housing summit to address the affordable housing problem. Having been a real estate developer of mostly high-end properties for many years, Mayor Schell was intimately aware of the effects that the rapid development of high end properties had on low-income housing in Seattle. He surmised that increasing development of housing in targeted neighborhoods would affect supply and demand, thus driving housing prices down. The city had in the past been successful in securing funding for the development of low-income permanent housing.

An ICA Working Paper entitled “Making Strategy Work: A Literature Review on the Factors Influencing Strategy Implementation” states “studies acknowledge that strategies frequently fail not because of inadequate strategy formation, but because of insufficient implementation”. The paper discusses numerous peer reviewed articles that evaluate the factors involved in developing and implementing strategies that achieve targeted outcomes. There are some generic pre-implementation and design strategies that apply to every attempt at program engineering. Those include: clearly indentifying the problem and prioritizing elements of the problem; discussing the problem with all stakeholders; identifying methods of solving the problem; and, evaluating operational, financial and political ramifications of the reengineering. The information is limited regarding the pre-implementation and design strategies of Mayor Schell in addressing the homeless problem. Whether or not a strategic plan was ever developed in this regard is unknown to this writer. Nonetheless, there is evidence of some pre-implementation activity by reference to the housing summit convened by the mayor in order to discuss the lack of affordable housing. Also by references in newspaper articles, it is assumed that the city’s financial status was considered in determining the amount of funds allocated to the mayor’s plans. One of the design strategies identified is the increase in shelter beds for families and single women by acquiring space in at least two locations.
Mayor Schell’s public pledge that there would be no homeless families with children or single women on the streets by Christmas does not suggest any great degree of pre-implementation or strategy development. A practical outcome of this choice is that he would fail to keep that pledge, which was the actual outcome. Choosing to increase the shelter bed space to meet the needs of the target groups has a practical outcome of being costly, but could get the targeted groups off the streets. The choice of allocating the majority of funds available to emergency rental assistance and motel vouchers has a practical outcome of preventing people from sleeping on the streets, but are stop-gap measures that will possibly have to be repeated for the same people. The practical outcome of convening a housing summit to address affordable housing would be the development of concrete strategies for improving housing needs. It is unknown if this was an actual outcome.
One of the steps that the mayor took to reengineer the homeless program to fit his objectives was to use some funding to increase shelter beds. Another step the mayor took was to partner with community resources like the Salvation Army Rent Subsidy Program and Family Services/Traveler’s Aid Program by providing funding for emergency rental assistance and motel vouchers. Several Seattle newspaper articles indicate that another step the mayor took was to have all programs serving homeless people use technology to use identifying PIN numbers to track service delivery to the homeless. An additional step that the mayor took, as reported in The Seattle Times, was to create the Office of Housing, “that helped to create or preserve 10,000 units of low-income and affordable housing”. This case study highlights the importance of conducting proper assessments prior to new program implementation. It is universally known that establishing accurate counts for the homeless population is tricky business. One of the key factors in implementing programs to address homelessness is to know the make up and dynamics of that population. This fact is clearly articulated in an article entitled, “Counting the homeless-improving the basis for planning assistance” where it reads, “The availability of both quantitative and qualitative data on homelessness would enable the City to adapt and improve local social planning in line with needs, and ultimately, to better integrate the homeless into the regular housing market.” Conducting assessments of a problem is critical in developing strategic plans and projecting outcomes. In an article entitled, “Homelessness and Health”, it is indicated that assessments of factors contributing to homelessness and the subsequent development of effective strategies to counter homelessness are impeded by elected officials looking for simple, short-term, “politically expedient” solutions. Assessments can help in prioritizing services in new program implementation as supported in the article, “A Framework for Developing Supports and Services for Families Experiencing Homelessness”. For instance, a measurement of service use alone does not paint the true picture of services and supports needed for families to recover from homelessness. Finally, conducting assessments prior to new program implementation is needed to determine implementation costs and funding sources. If assessments are made of available funding and potential funding sources up front, planners are more likely to develop and implement viable strategies.

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[ 1 ]. Seattle Weekly. “No home for the holidays”. Tarpley, Catherine. 12-23-1998. http://www.seattleweekly.com/content/printversion/151681/
[ 2 ]. Ibid.
[ 3 ]. Li, Yang, et.al., (2008). Making Strategy Work: A literature Review on the Factors influencing Stategy Implementation. http:www.knowledge-communication.org/pdf/making-srategy
[ 4 ]. The Seattle Times. Unlucky Paul Schell: accomplishments and fatal flaws. Royer, Charles. Editorial.1-4-2002. http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20020104&slug=royerop04
[ 5 ]. Peer-reviews/2009/Counting the homeless-improving the basis for planning assistance. http://www.peer-review-social-inclusion.eu
[ 6 ]. Turnbull, Jeffrey, et.al..(10-23-2007. Canadian Medical Association Journal. http://www. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2025621
[ 7 ]. Bassuk, Ellen, Volk, Katherine, Oliver, Jeffrey (1-2010). A Framework for Developing Supports and Services for Families Experiencing Homelessness. The Open Health Services and Policy Journal. http://www.familyhomelessness.org/media/92pdf…...

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