• Collaboration Type: Alliances & Networks
  • Region: BTF
  • Social Issue: Domestic Violence
  • Size of Organizations: >$10 mil
  • BIPOC Leaders: Yes
  • Successful: Yes

DVBEDS is a statewide emergency shelter platform that helps agencies find available beds for domestic violence survivors. This collaboration demonstrates how independent social service agencies, working together, can provide higher quality services and better utilize agencies’ capacity to meet their clients’ needs. To develop this type of collaboration, agencies must put the client experience at the center of their work.

Best Practices for Social Impact Organizations:

  1. Put the client experience at the center of the collaboration design.
  2. Start small and work out the issues before scaling.
  3. For systems alignment, one organization must own it and continue nurturing relationships among partners.

Outcomes:

  1. Network growth means more options for safe shelter.
  2. More shelter beds are available for individuals and families.

Best Practices for Funders:

  1. Fund the backbone organization for systems alignment.
  2. Help connect organizations to the right partners to move the systems-alignment project forward.

When a person experiences domestic violence, they often need safe emergency shelter. But they face a daunting task in many places in the United States. They have to call around to determine whether they are eligible for shelter and which shelter has space to accommodate their family. Sarah Nejdl, CEO of Families to Freedom, describes the problem; “Survivors don’t have time, and they don’t have the emotional capacity to call 5 or 6 or 8 different shelters in rapid succession to find out if anyone has space.” The survivors of domestic violence and their experience are at the heart of a successful sustained collaboration initiative in Texas, DVBEDS.

Stretched to the Breaking Point

DVBEDS began in Dallas because of a change in the Dallas Police Department. In 2012, they began the Lethality Assessment Protocol (LAP). When an officer was called to a home for a domestic dispute, they conducted a screening. If the lethality assessment was positive, then they would immediately contact a domestic violence shelter. The new policy had an immediate impact. Paige Flink, former CEO and board member of The Family Place, recalls that The Family Place and Genesis Women’s Shelter saw “an almost 100% increase in calls that we weren’t expecting.” This influx of calls stretched the limited capacity of shelters to their breaking point. The 3rd Annual Domestic Violence Task Force report captured the problem. In Dallas, over 7,950 women, children, and men were turned away due to lack of capacity.

Six emergency shelter programs approached the Better Together Fund to conduct a feasibility study. With a grant of about $18,000, they began to explore whether the shelters could work together as a system of shelters. While each organization was already stretched to capacity, they knew that making time for this project was essential. Emily Maduro, a Board Member at The Family Place, put it this way. “You can’t say, ‘Look, this isn’t the right time’. It’s never going to be the right time. If you’re in a social service agency, your plate will never be empty enough. You just have to make the effort to do it anyway.”

DVBEDS worked with two consultants during the initial phase to bring the project to reality. The first was Suzanne Smith of Social Impact Architects. Flink explains that having Smith lead the discussions was essential because “it became something that I wasn’t driving, so it made it more palatable.”

Smith’s first order of business was to orient agency leaders to the client experience. She explains, “I always tell people to take off your organizational hat and walk people through what is the best client scenario because nonprofits exist to serve the community. Part of my goal with collaboration is to get people out of their organizational box and into the client box or the community box.” Through that client experience work, each organization became sensitized to the ways that working independently was creating unnecessary trauma for the survivors. Clients had to tell their stories repeatedly as they searched for a shelter with space.

The second consultant was Global Emergency Response. Margaret Black, Managing Director at LH Capital and a Better Together Fund’s steering committee member, recalled that the Better Together Fund didn’t just provide funding for the feasibility study. “Our team did some research and pulled together some of the technology providers. [Global Emergency Responses] did come from that suggested list of potential vendors.” Global Emergency Response had developed a similar type of platform for hospital beds during disasters and immediately bought into the concept of DVBEDS.

Formalizing the Partnership

Once the idea for DVBEDS was developed, leaders again turned to The Better Together Fund. This time, they were ready to build out the new technology and create agreements between the organizations. The Better Together Fund remained enthusiastic about the project. Black describes the evaluation of the implementation grant proposal: “This project has been compelling since the beginning. When we looked at it each of those times, as long as they were willing to continue to invest and expand, we were ready to support them all along.”

At first blush, DVBEDS appears to be a technology solution for coordination. Indeed, the technology made it easy for users to search for the suitable configuration of available beds (e.g., family units, units that would accommodate a teenage boy).

However, the agreements and active participation of the agencies were even more important. In the Memorandum of Understanding, each agency signs with The Family Place they agree to “report accurate uploads of data of open beds as they become available through the use of the application at a predetermined schedule and transfer domestic violence hotline callers to agencies with available bed space and provide warm referral to participating agencies.”  Without daily participation from each of the agencies, DVBEDS wouldn’t work.

Today, DVBEDS has expanded to 29 shelters and 12 non-shelter facilities. As it has expanded, daily collaboration remains at the heart of DVBEDS; Mary Beth Kopsovich of The Family Place puts it this way: “It is through the collaboration of the partnerships of the 40 different agencies that make DVBeds a success. It’s not just a tool through technology to help survivors find safe shelter solutions. And what I mean by that is that it takes everybody to make this thing successful.”

Finding Shelter for Survivors through DVBEDS

Today, DVBEDS is at the center of finding shelter for many survivors of domestic violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline uses DVBEDS to find shelter for survivors in Texas. There are over 50,000 logins to DVBEDS annually. This means that over 50,000 times, agencies in the system log in to find shelter for a survivor or to update their bed availability.

Maduro, board member of The Family Place, sums up the success succinctly. “We definitely view it as a success. We can place more people. Our feedback from our partners is excellent. They feel that it’s a success. They are increasing their utilization rates and their filling their beds at a higher rate.”

But the number of logins alone doesn’t capture the impact. Kopsovich recounts how DVBEDS makes a difference for survivors every day.

“One recent call was a pretty significant safety issue. And so, I said, ‘Hey, let me call my people from my network, and let me see who I can call upon to try and help this family.’ It was a woman with a teenage boy; I think he was 13, which is a challenge because some shelters don’t accept boys over the age of 11 or 12. And also, this family had a dog. So, there are two barriers, right? There are two potential barriers to helping this survivor find safe shelter. And, of course, she wanted to keep her family unit together: the whole family, the mom, the child, and the dog. I called a shelter down in Corsicana. The CEO was working in the shelter that day, she said, ‘Mary Beth. We’ve been hit by Covid. Many of my staff aren’t working right now because they’re sick with Covid. I’m working around the clock in our shelter. But I’m happy to accommodate this family. What can I do?’”

The story is repeated every day. The Family Place refers about 160 callers through DVBEDS every month, and they are only one of the 40 agencies that participate. DVBEDS has allowed Texas shelters to operate like a statewide system for survivors.