Memphis Emergency Housing Partnership

The City of Memphis and community partners used the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) as an opportunity to restructure the service delivery system for families who experience homelessness. They established a centralized intake system for homeless assistance programs, a uniform risk assessment based on a tool used in the child welfare system to identify families needing services beyond financial assistance, and a team of family housing advocates focused on helping families build natural support systems.

Problem or Challenge:

Prior to the availability of funding through HPRP, transitional housing was the preferred response to family homelessness in Memphis and Shelby County. More than 65 percent of all households who experienced homelessness were served in transitional housing programs. The results were disappointing: of those who exited transitional housing, only one in three left for their own permanent housing and the average length of homelessness for families was 147 days. The City saw HPRP as an opportunity to experiment with alternative interventions that would be more effective and less expensive.


The City of Memphis, along with community partners (collectively called the Memphis/Shelby County Emergency Housing Partnership), used federal HPRP funding to create a new system of response with four main components:

  • Centralized intake, using a hot line and a central intake site co-located with a benefits counselor
  • Uniform assessment process using a screening tool designed to identify families in need of services
  • A team of family housing advocates providing supports and a housing specialist to identify housing units
  • Short-term financial assistance

Implementation Steps/Tips:

Centralized intake for families

Beginning in October of 2009, the Memphis area family shelter and transitional housing programs agreed to establish a new front door to the system by foregoing their own intakes and joining in a centralized intake. The intake has two components. The first is a 24-hour telephone hotline operated during the day by the Tennessee Community Service Agency (TNCSA) and in the evenings and weekends by the family shelter and transitional housing providers. The hotline screens for basic eligibility, i.e., whether the person is currently experiencing homelessness or imminently homeless. The hotline screened more than 18,000 requests for help in the first year. Close to one third of these were referred to the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA) for further assessment.

The second component is a central intake site for families where MIFA conducts in-person assessments for shelter diversion, prevention, and intake into shelter and transitional housing. Families no longer self-select homeless assistance programs but are matched to them based on their needs as determined through the assessment process. More than 5,000 households were served by the center in its first year. Most received mediation and/or housing counseling. Less than one in ten received financial assistance and only six percent were placed in shelter or transitional housing.

A city-funded emergency assistance program is co-located at the central intake site as well as a Seedco earned benefits counselor who provides application assistance for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, TANF, and other mainstream benefits.

In addition to families, other households eligible for prevention and rapid re-housing assistance include domestic violence victims, youth aging out of the child welfare system, Veterans, and ex-offenders who have case management support. They are referred by community agencies that sign partnership agreements and commit to provide the supportive services.

Uniform risk assessment

All families who qualify for assistance through HPRP complete a brief interview using a risk assessment tool known as Structured Decision Making (SDM). SDM has been found in a number of evaluations to be highly predictive of future risk of child maltreatment. Memphis adapted this tool for use at its intake center as a way to determine whether supportive services are needed by the family in addition to financial assistance. Households who received a score of high or very high risk of abuse and neglect and are at imminent risk of homelessness are referred to a family housing advocate at either Agape Child and Family Services or TNCSA.

Families who are assigned to shelter or transitional housing receive the assessment within two weeks of entry. Those who receive a score of moderate or higher risk are also referred to the family housing advocates whohave regular rotations to assess and engage residents of shelter or transitional housing programs with a goal of rapid re-housing.

Support services

Rather than case managers, the program uses family housing advocates who provide culturally-competent, community relevant, strength-based supportive services informed by the VanDenBerg Wraparound principles. Through this approach, family housing advocates assist the family in establishing strong relational supports, recognizing the central importance of the support that a family member receives naturally from the family members, friends, and faith communities whose connection to the family is independent of the formal service system and its resources. These sources of natural support promote resiliency and are most likely to be available to the family after formal services have ended. The family housing advocates also make referrals to community providers as necessary to access additional services to address mental health, substance use, transportation, and other concrete needs.

The family housing advocates provide supports for a period of six months, sometimes more depending on client needs. All services are delivered in the client’s home and in most cases by peers.

In addition to the family housing advocates, the partnership also uses a housing specialist to reach out to landlords to identify willing partners in the project, those who will overlook poor credit or criminal histories, and those with affordable rents. The housing specialist conducts unit inspections and conducts follow-ups to determine housing stability among those who were not assigned a family housing advocate.

Financial assistance

Financial assistance is limited to a maximum of three months in each episode of assistance, typically $1,200 or less. Families are eligible to apply for additional assistance if unexpected job loss or illness causes them to fall behind again. If needed, families could receive assistance twice a year.


The partnership meets monthly to review data on the program’s performance and front-line staff meets bi-weekly on shared cases. This open communication and analysis of performance information has helped to develop an understanding of effective approaches and has proven to partners that prevention and rapid re-housing work even with families with more challenges.

Outcomes of the two-year period October 2009 - September 2011 include the following:

  • Housing stability (determined by whether the household has maintained rental housing without being evicted or without leaving prior to eviction but with rent owed) is measured at three-, six- and 12-month intervals. At the three-month interval, 99 percent of families engaged in supportive services remained stably housed versus 90 percent in the group who did not receive services. At 12 months, the figures were 91 percent and 86 percent respectively.
  • 1,104 households (3,934 people) avoided homelessness through eviction prevention.
  • Family homelessness decreased by two percent despite record poverty and unemployment rates.
  • Overall, after more than two years only two households returned to shelter and 90 percent were stably housed 12 months after receiving assistance.
  • Over 70 percent of families received only one assistance episode of up to three months. About 10 percent of families received three or more episodes of assistance during the program’s first two years.
  • The cost of the initiative includes central intake, family housing advocates, and the hotline and was $2,535 per family. This compares favorably to the cost of a transitional housing episode which is $13,000 - $19,000.

Contact Info for Follow-up:

Community Alliance for the Homeless: A link to the partnership’s year two report is available at this website.

Related Profiles:

Promising Practice: Rapid Re-Housing

Promising Practice: Coordinated Entry (Centralized Intake)

Evidence-based Practice: Rental Housing Assistance