At USICH, we believe that solving homelessness means that every effort is made to prevent someone from falling into homelessness. When homelessness does occur, resources are made available to very quickly re-house the family, the individual, the Veteran. During that period, temporary shelter is provided so no one is ever unsheltered. Solving homelessness also means that families, individuals, and Veterans don’t find themselves cycling in and out of homelessness.
To make this possible, there must be a system of homeless services in place and well-integrated with community and mainstream resources. It means that providers are working together across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors with a common agenda and framework that all programs use under the Housing First rubric.
We did some research on what it takes to reduce and end homelessness by studying communities that were on track to achieve the Federal goals under Opening Doors. We found five key lessons.
1. Data Drives Results
Communities across the country that are using data to measure system and program performance and then inform resource allocation decisions are making significantly more progress than communities that do not.
USICH and our Federal partners use data extensively – across and within the Federal government as well as through public communications such as the Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR), Point-In-Time Counts, and the Annual Update to Opening Doors. It’s important for States to also get serious about using not just collecting data. Use data to evaluate performance, inform decisions, and allocate resources.
2. Exploit Mainstream Resources
Communities across the country that engage mainstream systems and integrate those resources— housing, job training, child care, health care, etc.—with programs that address homelessness specifically have greater success than relying solely on homelessness-specific resources like Continuum of Care, VASH, and Healthcare for the Homeless.
USICH agencies have developed “guidance” to help community leaders engage public housing agencies and multifamily housing owners, Medicaid directors, and TANF programs, as well as other targeted programs such as child welfare and criminal justice, in local and statewide efforts to address homelessness.
3. Be Frugal – Target Wisely
Too often homelessness resources are doled out on a first come first serve basis to those individuals or families that meet the admission criteria for the program. And too often the admission criteria for the program is quite selective. The result of this kind of “creaming” is those who need help the most are left on the streets or in overnight shelters.
Communities that are making progress reserve the most expensive and intensive interventions, like transitional housing and permanent supportive housing, for people who require that level of intervention to end their homelessness. In effect they are frugal – they don’t waste intensive services/housing on those who might “benefit” from it; they reserve it only for those who “must” have it to exit homelessness.
Providing the right intervention at the right time to the right family requires a coordinated assessment system to triage people to the most appropriate level of assistance based on their needs. This is an important step in promoting a smarter, more effective use of resources.
4. Be Smart – Use Evidence
Communities that have adopted Housing First at the community and the program level are making the greatest progress. Housing First offers individuals and families experiencing homelessness immediate access to permanent affordable or supportive housing, without clinical prerequisites like completion of a course of treatment or evidence of sobriety. Housing First yields higher housing retention rates, lower returns to homelessness, and significant reductions in the use of crisis service and institutions. At a community level, Housing First means the entire network of programs are integrated and oriented to help youth, families and adults quickly achieve housing stability.
5. Expand the Pie Strategically
Solving homelessness will require new investments in Federal, State, local, and private sector resources to scale the innovations that work. But first, or at least concurrently, we must use existing resources in smarter ways. We need to have a clear case for how a new resource will fill a critical gap that can’t be filled by mainstream resources or by better use of homeless specific resources. We have to be able to make the case that the new investment will contribute to meaningful and measurable outcomes for homeless families, youth, and adults.
Ending homelessness is possible– you can ensure no one is unsheltered and all who experience homelessness rapidly exit to permanent housing. But to do that, we need to deploy resources even more effectively and in even more fiscally prudent ways.
So, join us and make an aggressive commitment to getting to the finish line. USICH and Federal partners are weaving together our resources to ease the journey. Together, we can continue to make great strides toward our goal of preventing and ending homelessness in America.