Family Connection: Building Systems to End Family Homelessness
Ending homelessness for families and children is a priority for the nation and each community. By providing the right amount of assistance to help families obtain or regain permanent housing as quickly as possible and ensuring access to services to remain stably housed, achieving an end to family homelessness is possible.
Defining an End to Family Homelessness
Given the current economic realities in most communities, situations in which families experience a crisis and lose their home will likely occur. Recognizing this reality, USICH and Federal partners adopted a vision of an end to family homelessness, to mean that no family will be without shelter, and homelessness will be a rare and brief occurrence. To achieve an end to family homelessness, we encourage communities to join us to realize these ends:
Working together with our partners at the State, local, and Federal level to strengthen the local crisis response systems, we will:
- Ensure that no families are living unsheltered
- Shorten episodes of family homelessness by providing resources that enable families to safely reenter permanent housing as quickly as possible,
- Link families to the benefits, supports, and community-based services they need to achieve and maintain housing stability and
- Identify and implement effective prevention methods to help families avoid homelessness.
Key Areas of Action
USICH and Federal partners, through a review of research, engagement with communities, and an interagency working group process, identified four key strategy areas for Federal, state, and local action to end family homelessness:
- Develop a centralized or coordinated entry system with the capacity to assess needs and connect families to targeted prevention assistance where possible and temporary shelter as needed
- Ensure tailored interventions and assistance appropriate to the needs of families:
- Provide rapid re-housing assistance to the majority of families experiencing homelessness
- Increase access to affordable housing, and help communities target resources and
- Direct more service-intensive housing interventions to the highest need households
- Help families connect to the mainstream resources (benefits, employment, and community-based services) needed to sustain housing and achieve stability. Improve linkages to local mainstream systems to help families gain access to these resources more quickly
- Develop and build upon evidence-based practices for serving families experiencing and at-risk of experiencing homelessness
USICH and Federal partners are aligned around this approach and committed to supporting communities and stakeholders through the use of interagency messaging, policies, and technical assistance.
Coordinated Entry System
Families experiencing homelessness have varying levels of service needs and strengths. An effective response prevents homelessness or addresses the immediate crisis of homelessness, and then connects families to the most appropriate level and type of assistance based on their strengths and needs. Effective crisis response systems have coordinated access or entry points through which families can seek help, have their needs and strengths assessed, and be connected to appropriate housing and supports. The assessment supports the ability for families to be given access to the best options to address their needs, rather than being evaluated for single programs.
As a result of the assessment process, families can be assisted to maintain or obtain permanent housing while avoiding a shelter stay. Prevention and diversion assistance may include a combination of financial assistance, mediation, housing location, or other supports. When the intervention is aimed at helping families stay in their current housing, safety should be a primary consideration.
Temporary shelter with stabilization services provides immediate safety for a family and address immediate crisis needs, including specialized domestic violence shelters and services. Stabilization services may include access to school or early childhood care and learning, benefits, and health services, including substance use and mental health services. Housing placement is the primary objective for temporary shelter.
Safety for Survivors of Domestic Violence – In order for coordinated entry systems to function, providers may need to change their admissions policies to remove barriers to entry that may be embedded in eligibility criteria and accept referrals from the coordinated access point(s). As many families experiencing homelessness are significantly impacted by domestic violence and other trauma, effective entry systems have the training and capacity to engage in a trauma-informed way and identify victims of domestic violence. Successful systems also offer safety planning, advocacy, and access to specialized services that address the safety concerns of individuals fleeing domestic violence and their children. Effective systems are able to assess the needs of children and youth and make effective linkages for appropriate services.
Tailored Interventions and Assistance
Rapid Re-housing helps individuals and families quickly exit homelessness to permanent housing. Rapid re-housing assistance is offered without preconditions (such as employment, income, absence of criminal record, or sobriety) and the resources and services provided are typically tailored to the unique needs of the household. The core components of a rapid re-housing program include housing identification services, financial assistance for rent and move-in, and accompanying case management and supportive services. While a rapid re-housing program has all three core components available, it is not required that a household utilize them all.
Permanent Supportive Housing is long term affordable housing with ongoing services for families with disabilities and high levels of need, such as those who have been repeatedly homeless or high users of other systems of care. Supportive housing that uses a Housing First approach needs to be available at a scale sufficient to serve the households that require this approach to be successful.
Many households can resolve their homelessness without needing either rapid re-housing or permanent supportive housing. Partnerships between homeless service providers, public housing agencies, and other affordable housing providers help expedite quick access to housing.
Transitional Housing programs provide temporary residence combined with intensive services —usually for up to 24 months—for people experiencing homelessness. Transitional housing may currently represent a significant portion of the inventory in many communities. While transitional housing programs may meet the needs of a sub-population of families, it is important to evaluate programs for effectiveness and efficiency at achieving permanent housing outcomes relative to other housing interventions.
Connection to Mainstream Resources
Beyond housing, a range of community-based benefits and supportive services can help parents and children move out of crisis, achieve stability, and improve income, education, and well-being. Given limited resources for homeless specific assistance programs, it is essential that communities develop strategies to improve access to and coordination with mainstream benefits and services. Local mainstream or community service programs can provide comprehensive, wrap-around services for families and children, as needed. More effective coordination between homelessness services, prevention efforts, and mainstream programs is essential. Such a system-level transformation takes a great deal of community-level partnership and engagement.
There is a wealth of evidence and data on practices that improve the efficiency and effectiveness of interventions to support families at achieving and maintaining a permanent housing outcome. Communities can apply this knowledge to their programs and funding decisions to improve outcomes. For example, there is an opportunity for communities to adopt housing first principles, ensure the use of trauma-informed services in every intervention, apply critical time intervention, and connect families with early childhood home visiting and early childhood education programs. Enhancing services for families through the implementation of evidence-based practices can lead to a range of improved outcomes for parents and their children while making scarce resources go further.
Together We Can End Family Homelessness
An end to family homelessness requires partnership across all levels of government and sectors as well as across a range of disciplines. Reaching an end to family homelessness is challenging, but dramatic improvements are achievable with the right amount of assistance, connection to permanent housing, the strengthening of local crisis response systems, and the strategic use of resources and evidence-based strategies. An increase in resources to grow the supply of affordable housing is critical component to this effort.
USICH, in partnership with Federal agencies, will publish additional resources as more is learned from the field and Federal partners about effective strategies for building systems to end family homelessness.