08/08/2013 - Atlanta Hosts Mobile Fair to Help Veterans Find Housing

As discussed in prior blogs, Boot Camps are the brainchild of the Community Solutions 100,00 Homes team, who partners with Rapid Results facilitators and federal partners like the VA, HUD, and USICH to create a space where teams consisting of representatives from Public Housing Authorities, Continua of Care, the local government, VA Medical Centers, public and private service providers and stakeholders can join together to articulate barriers, build on strengths, and create a 100-day plan to accelerate progress in their communities in order to make a marked impact on homelessness. 

What happens during those 100 days?  What happens after the 100 days are over?

Atlanta’s work shows how an engaged team can leverage the 100-day challenge to bring in meaningful partners and energize a whole community while building momentum so the work goes past the 100-days and becomes a cultural shift for everyone working in the system.

When Atlanta first participated in a boot camp focused on Veterans experiencing chronic homelessness, the community realized that seamless access to affordable housing was something it would have to achieve if it was going to decrease homelessness among Veterans.  Finding an apartment can be hard work for anyone.  For people who have experienced chronic homelessness and who may not have excellent records or recent experience seeking housing, the challenge is even greater.  The Atlanta team knew that even as they lined up housing assistance and supportive services, it would be meaningless unless Veterans were able to find housing quickly and efficiently. 

As part of the100-day commitment, the Atlanta team did extensive landlord outreach to educate people about the benefits of renting to tenants emerging from homelessness and the need to have good landlords making apartments available for this purpose.  The team also recruited landlords to participate in a Housing Fair.  The VA hosted the housing fair, and made it something people would want to be a part of. This meant festive decorations, offering food, creating a welcoming space for landlords and potential tenants to engage in conversations, having case managers on hand to help with applications on site, and having representatives from the public housing authority to answer questions about the voucher process.  There was transportation on hand, so if a Veteran wanted to go see a particular apartment, they could.

The Housing Fair was a great success in bringing all the pieces together that a veteran would need to find the housing.  As the 100 days came to a close, the community was able to meet its goal in part because of the success of the housing fair.  Due to this success, the coordinating team joined together and continued to facilitate additional housing fairs, each one getting better and bringing in new partners.

Around this time, the community was also aligning resources and commitments and looking to build on the success it had seen with VASH and other community initiatives to decrease the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness. Unfortunately, as we’d seen with veterans, there was a big backlog and people experiencing chronic homelessness weren’t getting into housing quickly, even though they had a voucher to help them afford it. During a boot camp gathering, the sense of urgency pressed the 2nd Challenge Team from the City of Atlanta to think bigger. 

We used the energy from the boot camp to accelerate a brainstorm we’d been considering: why not have a mobile housing fair? The idea was that by bringing a group of people experiencing chronic homelessness on a housing tour, they can see, hear, and experience the apartment and neighborhood first hand instead of having to passively hear about it at a housing fair in held in an arena. This would accelerate the process and build a sense of ownership of the process for new tenants.

Participants board a van, and see available apartments together. This offers a chance to support one another, ask questions and dialogue about apartments.  As well, if people want to be in the same neighborhood, they can look for apartments that would fit their individual needs, and be nearby their friend or support network.  If a participant sees an apartment that she wants, she can stay there and start the application while the tour continues, along with a case manager for support if needed.  When she’s done, the van comes back to get her.  For case managers, this is a win-win because people are getting a chance to choose apartments that are a good fit for them, and once they select an apartment, the case manager can work to get an inspection and paperwork lined up right away.

The seed planted during the first 100-day challenge in Atlanta has taken root, and the creative, innovative practice of the mobile housing fair is being embraced by groups across the city. I love the outcome and affirm that this is something any community can do to help accelerate their process and get more people housed.

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