Act Strategically

Acting Strategically to Transform Homeless Services to Rapid Response Systems and to Implement Housing First and Rapid Re-Housing Practices

Centralized and coordinated intake is key to making sure the right services reach the right people quickly.  Rapid response systems should offer alternatives to shelter admission whenever possible, should make shelter available when it is needed, and should ensure quick housing placement and retention.  Housing First is the most effective model available to end chronic homelessness and rapid re-housing and prevention are highly cost-effective models to end homelessness quickly or prevent it before it happens.

Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis, Tennessee has created a centralized intake system that uses the rapid re-housing model to get families stably housed quickly.  Memphis was able to coordinate its largest service providers to create one centralized intake system for families at risk of or experiencing homelessness. They created a 24-hour hotline as the first point of contact for families in trouble. The hotline screened 18,000 calls for assistance in its first year. From that first assessment, families in need of further help were referred for face-to-face consultation to determine what they needed to achieve stable housing. Over one-third of the callers in the first year were referred for a consultation. Families were also helped to apply for mainstream resources for which they were eligible.  Memphis combined their new central intake system with a rapid-re-housing model.  In the first year of the program, Memphis has seen a six percent reduction in family homelessness at a time when trends around the country are in the opposite direction.  They also reduced length of homelessness for families by 14 percent.  Eighty-six percent of families helped remain stably housed after 6 months and no families required emergency shelter in the 12 months following assistance.

Denver, Colorado

Denver, Colorado’s initiative to end homelessness, Denver’s Road Home, has put Housing First and rapid re-housing services at the forefront of its efforts to eliminate chronic and family homelessness.  Denver’s Road Home works with partners in the public school system and through coordinated street outreach to identify people experiencing homelessness and target resources.  Partnerships with Denver’s Housing Authority, Veterans Affairs, and the Mental Health Center of Denver provide integrated approaches to supportive services for those with complex needs.  The focus on Housing First combined with cross-system partnerships has corresponded with a 75 percent reduction in chronic homelessness over the last 6 years.  In that same time, 2,373 new housing units have been created.  Homelessness prevention through rental assistance has prevented homelessness for 5,714 Denver families in the last 6 years.   

Coordinate with VA Medical Centers

Seattle/King County, Washington

Seattle/King County has a long history of bringing diverse partners to the table and developing a high degree of top level collaboration.  The Committee to End Homelessness’ Funders Group, which is comprised of seven different funders in the King County region, is an example of this collaborative approach.  The Funders Group establishes system-wide priorities and work plans for homeless housing and services and has created a joint application, evaluation, and reporting process for capital investments and for services.  This work greatly streamlines efforts to end homlessness in King County and has resulted in improved use of resources.   In 2010, the Funders Group added a representative of the regional Veterans Health Administration to its ranks and invited the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs to join in coordinated planning for a King County Five Year Plan to End Veterans Homelessness.  That plan was adopted in May of 2011, and coordinates federal, state and local investments and priorities in a comprehensive plan to end veterans homelessness by 2015.  

Collaborate with Public Housing Agencies

Public housing agencies are critical partners to provide housing for those who are at-risk of or experiencing homelessness.  Communities should work closely with public housing agencies to identify how people experiencing homelessness can be prioritized for housing.  

Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, NC has seen a 75 percent reduction in its population experiencing chronic homelessness since its 10-year plan was adopted in 2005, thanks in part to a collaborative community effort targeting public housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness.  In a partnership that began in March 2010, the Housing Authority prioritizes people on its waitlist who are experiencing chronic homeless who will receive case management from Homeward Bound for at least their first year in housing.  This project has reduced the wait for public housing from 12-18 months to 2-3 months for people experiencing chronic homelessness, and has housed 61 people since it began, with an 89 percent housing retention rate.  This impact is reflected in Asheville’s Point-in-Time data with a chronic homeless count of 187 in 2010 down 60 percent in one year to 75 in 2011. This is a project of the advisory board of the Homeless Initiative, which coordinates the community’s 10-year plan.  Advisory board members include not only the Housing Authority and Homeward Bound, but also other community partners who have come to the table to collaborate on and resource this project: the City of Asheville, Buncombe County, local mental health providers and the local hospital.

Commit to Using Data as a Management Tool

Hennepin County, Minnesota

Measuring results is critical to ensuring resources are used effectively, but it is also critical to have a system in place that allows programs to be recalibrated and adjusted in response to what the data shows.  Hennepin County, Minnesota is a leader in using data to drive homelessness services program design and implementation and ensuring that the best results are achieved with minimal resources.  This is evident in Hennepin’s Family Homelessness Prevention and Assistance Program (FHPAP).  When an evaluation of the program indicated that families receiving prevention services had significantly higher incomes than the families in shelter, Hennepin developed a new tool for providers to make sure that these services were targeted more deeply to those in the greatest need.  FHPAP is a highly cost-effective program with an average cost of $700 per family in one-time prevention assistance.

Hennepin County will be featured on our upcoming webinar about Opening Doors Across America.

Register for the webinar now

Work Collaboratively and Build Relationships

In order to streamline resources and efforts, it is critical to involve all the right partners in planning an implementing efforts to prevent and end homelessness.  Health and human services, housing agencies, VA medical centers, education, corrections, law enforcement, the private sector including local business, and non-profits, philanthropy, faith-based and community organizations are all vital partners to ensuring we are all working toward the same goals and that dollars are spent effectively on proven strategies.

Clallam County, Washington

Clallam County, WA recognizes the importance of bringing the right people to the table.  Clallam County is a mostly rural county in northwest Washington.  Clallam County has made steady progress toward preventing and ending homelessness since plan implementation in 2006.  The Peninsula Housing Authority, the Clallam Board of Commissioners, behavioral health agencies, Veterans’ programs, domestic violence programs, and property management associations have all been deeply involved providing planning and development assistance and energetic leadership.  In the words of Pam Tietz, Director of the Housing Authority, “We have learned that working together accomplishes far more than working separately and that motivates us to look for new and enhanced partnerships.”   Local funds, from document recording fees and other local programs, are focused on the performance-based strategies of the Ten Year Plan, though this has often meant moving dollars away from emergency shelter and other traditional activities. Making difficult choices is more easily accomplished when all community voices are heard and consensus developed from the bottom up, around achieving real and permanent change in housing status. The communities of this small rural county have consistently supported projects and interventions that are performance-based and cost-effective, in particular, permanent supportive housing for people experiencing chronic and family homelessness. Clallam County is close to reaching the Ten Year Plan goal of 150 units of permanent supportive housing.