Housing Symposium 2023 Round Up

For the first time in three years, more than 300 housing professionals met in Savannah to talk shop at the 2023 Housing Symposium, hosted by the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Office of Homeless and Special Needs Housing from Feb. 22-24.

These professionals from across Georgia participated in sessions and activities about a variety of topics including the improvement of racial equity, better case management practices, trauma-informed interviewing, and new benefits assisting the homeless.

Savannah Mayor Van R. Johnson rang in day two of the Symposium where he shared the city’s vision for its “Housing Savannah” initiative.  Mayor Johnson spoke to the crowd about the housing issues people are encountering across the state, namely rent increases.  H discussed how these increases are not helping Georgians’ pockets; rather, they are forcing people to struggle, and in some cases, face eviction. 

Johnson said Savannah is using “Housing Savannah” as part of the solution to these issues.

Many other notable speakers were featured in the 2023 Housing Symposium who spoke about affordable housing topics, including:

  • Chris Hanks, Executive Director, The Institute of Entrepreneurship
  • Heather Smith, Case Expeditor, Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities
  • Jeff Clark, Street Outreach Director, Safe Harbor Inc.
  • Jennifer Dulong, Executive Director, Savannah Homeless Authority
  • Letitia Robinson, Assistant Director of the Office of Supportive Housing, Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities
  • Maxwell Ruppersburg, Director of the Office of Supportive Housing, Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities
  • Robert Thornton, Jr., Chief Epidemiologist, Department of Public Health Coastal Health District
  • Wesley Merritt, Assistant Deputy Commissioner of Field and Quality Operations, Division of Family and Children Services
  • William Grier, Community Liaison, Gilead Sciences, Inc.

Daphne Walker, Director of DCA’s Housing Assistance Division, said it was important to learn about best practices from these state housing professionals as “it’s the only way we build sustainable capacity and reach.”

Arlene Thomas, DCA Emergency Solutions Grant – Coronavirus (ESG-CV) analyst, made a large headway in building that “sustainable capacity and reach” during the HMIS ClientTrack sessions.  She said those two sessions had some of the highest attendance at the Symposium as many housing agencies use ClientTrack. 

According to Thomas, strong understanding of this service is important because housing agencies must have less than a five percent error rate in their report submissions. As they apply for coronavirus grants, some agencies are struggling with the service and have questions about it.

Thomas and her team tailored the sessions to address ClientTrack issues agency representatives have emailed them over time. It was the ESG-CV team’s job to make sure agencies have the tools to correct errors and run their reports properly.

Thomas, after speaking with those who came to her sessions, said the audience found the ClientTrack sessions enlightening.

“They weren’t aware of the things they can do inside of ClientTrack and I think that’s just the learning curve,” she said. “They just went in, did what they were told and didn’t really venture anywhere else. Now they’re curious as to what else they can do.”

Harvinder Kaur Makkar, DCA Special Needs Housing manager and Symposium speaker, helmed the “Best Practices in Case Management/Trauma-Informed Interviewing” session alongside the DCA ESG-CV team.

This session discussed the qualities of case management, and taught skills to help case managers assess appropriate care options and treatment plans for their clients.

Makkar also spoke at the prior 2019 and 2020 Housing Symposiums on similar topics.

Given that experience and minding three-year gap between Symposiums, Makkar said this year’s Symposium has not lost a step in terms of allowing professionals to connect more.

“Between DCA staff and the housing professionals that came, a lot of connections were made,” Makkar said.

In between sessions, you could feel the high energy as attendees mingled amongst themselves.

Makkar noted some of the attendees had met and worked with one another prior to the event, but only virtually. The Symposium gave them an opportunity to meet in person for the first time since the pandemic began.

“We received a great deal of positive feedback from participating state housing professionals concerning the quality of the Symposium, the content shared and the variety of the sessions provided,” said Cordaryl Turner, Deputy Division Director.

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs’ Office of Homeless and Special Needs Housing wants to thank everyone who was in attendance and is looking forward to hosting everyone again for next year's symposium.

View the Housing Symposium 2023 image gallery.