Homeless Action Response Team (HART)
The City of Norfolk Homeless Action Response Team (HART) provides a single point of contact for families in Norfolk who are experiencing homelessness. Through its 24-hour hotline, it serves as the central intake for all families facing housing crisis in the city. HART’s multi-disciplinary team of social workers and benefits specialists conduct individualized assessments using assessment tools and link families and individuals to housing, supportive services, and mainstream benefits.
Problem or Challenge:
The City of Norfolk Department of Human Services (DHS) is the primary public agency having responsibility for planning, delivery, and evaluation of the City’s human services and public assistance programs. Among these programs are homeless services, child protective and domestic violence services, family preservation, foster care, and TANF. DHS created the Homeless Action Response Team in 2003 when Norfolk’s resources for homeless families were consolidated into a central intake and support program. This happened in part because DHS realized the actions of its several offices were contradictory. One office was sanctioning families for failure to comply with the requirements of one benefit program; the resulting loss of income pushed the families into homelessness whereupon DHS began subsidizing their housing. DHS leadership saw the need for a team that would identify families’ issues, prioritize based on risk, and create a plan that connected the family to all available and appropriate benefits and services while avoiding internally contradictory demands on families and inefficient and ineffective agency behavior.
HART was also a response to the fragmentation of service delivery within the homeless services community at large. It was seen as a vehicle for forging collaborations across agencies so that homelessness could be prevented where possible and families could be rehoused and supported after exiting shelter. HART works in collaboration with members of Norfolk’s Homeless Consortium and with the City’s Office to End Homelessness, which shepherds the community’s progress in implementing its 10-year plan to end homelessness. HART now serves both families and individuals.
HART provides a single point of contact for families in Norfolk who are experiencing homelessness. The HART team, housed within the DHS office, is comprised of a cross-functional team of benefits eligibility workers (food stamps, TANF, General Relief, etc.), child welfare workers (social workers), and a SOAR worker whose charge is to get SSI and Medicaid benefits for eligible families and individuals. The team’s mission is to develop processes, community partnerships, and strategies to help end homelessness in the City of Norfolk.
HART helps families locate housing, offering emergency assistance to cover moving costs and short-term rental assistance, and working with a housing broker team within DHS to mediate with family members or landlords on behalf of clients. HART also helps families access public resources and, if appropriate, gain access to transitional or permanent supportive housing programs.
Coordinated entry for families
HART’s Norfolk Hotline for Homeless Families serves as the central intake/single point of entry for all families who are experiencing homelessness and seeking shelter in the City of Norfolk. The 24-hour hotline is open to any adult with legal custody of minor children in the city who is experiencing homelessness or about to become homeless and to any service provider working with families experiencing or at risk of homelessness. The hotline refers people to HART as the first step in addressing their homelessness. The local shelters also refer all incoming families to HART and rotate responsibility for answering the hotline after hours. For singles, there is no central intake, but for those coming into DHS, services and referrals are provided by HART.
Assessment and support
HART accepts referrals from the hotline, from community partners, and from internal program areas within DHS. In 2012 HART served about 115-120 households each month. Due to capacity restrictions it turns away close to 50 other referrals each month.
A household starts at HART by completing a universal intake and assessment form, which is a mechanism that gathers the information needed to determine eligibility for many public programs and also assesses a household’s need for various supportive services and its level of housing crisis.
Through a Memorandum of Agreement among Norfolk DHS, three local shelters, and local providers, HART links families and singles to shelters and mainstream benefits while also providing in-home services for families.
Prevention. For those who are still in housing, prevention services are the first option. HART and several other providers assist the household with budgeting, verify needed information, develop a landlord agreement or agreement to pay utilities, connect the household to ongoing public mainstream benefits, and/or make payments.
If the housing situation cannot be preserved, the HART social worker conducts an assessment with the family using the Arizona Self-Sufficiency Matrix Assessment tool and a housing barriers screening tool. HART also conducts credit and criminal background checks, completes a housing barriers screen, documents homelessness, and then assists the family with one of the following:
Permanent housing placement if at all possible, either through emergency rental assistance or mediating issues with family members or landlords. If the household is eligible for permanent supportive housing, HART facilitates the placement and does the same thing if participation in a transitional housing program seems appropriate. Placement follows various assessments, checks, and screenings.
Emergency shelter placement for those who have lost housing and who cannot immediately be placed in a housing option. Once in shelter community providers assist the households in accessing all mainstream benefits and services, offer employment assistance, and coordinate services as needed.
After-care services for those who move into transitional and permanent housing. Families in need of support services are connected to in-home case management teams provided by local non-profits. These in-home teams work to stabilize families in housing and prevent the reoccurrence of homelessness. Case management and home-based services are provided for employment, individual and family counseling, education, managing one’s finances, legal services, and medical care. HART generally provides aftercare services for six to 12 months.
The housing brokers team was created in August 2007 to help get more landlords involved with housing families and single adults who experience homelessness. The purpose of the team is to expand the capacity of the existing supply of affordable housing to accommodate families and individuals leaving the homeless service system or being diverted from it. The team consists of two housing specialists with backgrounds in property management, community/support services, and resource building. They are co-located with DHS and HART and work closely with the HART team and other homeless service agencies. The housing brokers recruit and maintain contact with landlords and property managers, conduct site visits of properties, assist in move-in inspections, review leases prior to signing, and negotiate security deposits and late fees for HART clients.
Funding for HART has evolved since its inception. Originally, HART relied heavily on state funding through the Comprehensive Service Act (CSA), which allowed pooling of state agency funds to support family preservation and prevention of foster care and other out-of-home placements. DHS made extensive use of CSA funds to prevent and end homelessness for families, following the rationale that homelessness leads to family dissolution and increased foster care placement for children. In 2007 the state instituted more restrictive regulations of CSA that hampered HART’s ability to use these funds. Subsequently, the City directed CDBG, HOME and HPRP funding (which was available between 2009 and 2012) to operate the program.
In FY 2010 (June 1, 2009 – May 31, 2010), HART served approximately 536 households (including households with children and those without). Funding for these services came from the federal HPRP program and from other internal funding sources. Of the 336 households who were served using internal funding sources in that year, 21 percent returned to HART within the subsequent 18 months requesting some type of additional assistance, i.e., security deposit, back rent, or shelter). Only seven percent returned to request shelter.
Contact Info for Follow-up:
City of Norfolk: www.norfolk.gov
Strategies for Improving Homeless People’s Access to Mainstream Benefits and Services, prepared for HUD, March 2010 by Martha Burt, et.al. at: http://www.huduser.org/publications/pdf/StrategiesAccessBenefitsServices.pdf
Promising Practice: Coordinated Entry
Promising Practice: Streamlining Access to Housing
Promising Practice: Homelessness Prevention
Promising Practice: SOAR