Understanding Housing First principles and adopting them as a core element of a community initiative are essential if we are serious about reducing homelessness and creating a system that ends it for most people within 30 days.
The Housing First philosophy does not exclude the different aspects that a functioning system must contain. For example, shelters are needed for an immediate safe place with low barriers while people work quickly on re-housing. Transitional housing can serve as options for certain populations that do not want to enter into their own housing unit just yet and choose to receive more intense services before they want to access permanent housing.
A Housing First approach does not screen out people because they are too hard to work with (often the term “not housing ready” is used). Housing First shifts the focus from treatment first to help people access housing quickly.
But (!) Housing First is not housing only. We need to ensure that people receive the services they need so they can overcome the underlying causes that led to their loss of housing in the first place.
Is it easy in an economy where affordable, low-income housing is scarce to find enough housing for people with several barriers to housing? No. But that requires another conversation on prioritization and how we utilize, as a community, our limited resources.
Learn more about Housing First and how you, in your program, can adopt its principles at the National Alliance to End Homelessness and at the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
Our community launched the 2016 by 2016 campaign in January 2015. The campaign ended in December.
How’s Nashville partners have assisted a total of 1,742 people who had experienced chronic homelessness with permanent housing between January 1, 2015, and December 31, 2016.
Of those housed, 1,281 experienced chronic homelessness and 461 were homeless Veterans.
The initial goal was to assist 1,421 people who were experiencing chronic homelessness or who were extremely vulnerable. However, we never counted people who were vulnerable but did not meet the federal chronic definition of homelessness. Thus, while it looks like we fell short of our goal, we may have well come closer than our official result.
What we celebrate is that through this effort, our community increased our average monthly housing effort from 19 people experiencing chronic homelessness who were assisted with permanent housing to 54 people who moved into permanent housing each month. That is a 184% increase in our monthly housing placement rate!
In addition, our community’s support programs reported housing retention after one year of 80-82%. This compares to studies that show that without support, only about 25-30% of people experiencing chronic homelessness retain their housing after 12 month.
The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) this month released new criteria and benchmarks for communities to measure whether they effectively ended family homelessness.
Ending family homelessness is one of the goals outlined in the federal strategic plan to end homelessness, called Opening Doors.
The goals of the plan are:
- End Veteran and chronic homelessness by 2017;
- End family and youth homelessness by 2020;
- Then set a path to end all types of homelessness.
To do so, we must build a housing crisis resolution system with a strong focus on prevention, and where people without housing are identified, we have swift responses in place to help them access housing with the appropriate level of support.
The USICH recognizes that most communities will continue to identify families experiencing a housing crisis, and writes in one of their documents that describes how to build a system to end family homelessness, “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.”
Tennessee has just published a state plan to end homelessness.
The goals of the plan are:
- To end Veteran and chronic homelessness by the end of 2017;
- To end homelessness for families with children and youth by the end of 2020; and
- To end all other homelessness by the end of 2025.
The plan was released by the Tennessee Interagency Council on Homelessness, which includes stakeholders representing lead organizations from the local and state levels. The backbone organization of the Tennessee Interagency Council on Homelessness is the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Priority steps of this action plan focus on:
- Increasing housing availability for individuals, Veterans, and families;
- Increasing job opportunities and available job training programs;
- Identifying government funding sources at the local, state, and federal levels;
- Creating a single screening process all agencies can use to determine eligibility; and
- Creating and operating a statewide database to better understand homelessness.
Click the following link for the executive summary.
How’s Nashville partners have talked a lot about permanent supportive housing. It is the model that we strive to implement.
Dennis Culhane explains “permanent supported housing,” as he calls it, as follows:
“The term ‘permanent supported housing’ does not imply one specific program model, but rather a number of program types and housing arrangements. Nonetheless, permanent supported housing is broadly defined as subsidized housing matched with accompanying supportive services. Providers of permanent supported housing cover a broad swath ranging from public entities to private nonprofit agencies.”
Continue reading the explanation on the bottom of page 7 in his 2010 white paper entitled Ending Chronic Homelessness: Cost‐Effective Opportunities for Interagency Collaboration.
One key point is that people’s access to housing helps stabilizes their situation and allows them to deal with underlying issues that have led to the loss of housing to begin with. Permanent supportive housing moves away from the notion that people must follow a continuum of programs from which they graduate to become “housing ready” before they are allowed access to permanent housing.
That is not to mean that permanent supportive housing neglects the need for support services and supportive programs. On the contrary, while support services are not required for a person to sign a lease, service providers assisting people should learn to be assertive in linking people to services to help them maintain their housing.
It is imperative that we, the How’s Nashville partners as a community collaborative, connect people to the supports they need once they are in housing, whether that be health, mental health, educational or vocational training, etc.
How’s Nashville partners have made great strides in assisting people who experienced chronic homelessness over the past four years. By working collaboratively our community was able to increase the average monthly housing placement rate for people experiencing chronic homelessness from 19 people per month to 55 people per month.
Ending chronic homelessness was the original goal of How’s Nashville. Meanwhile the How’s Nashville campaign has morphed into something bigger by aligning itself with the national goals of ending chronic, Veterans, families and children, and youth homelessness as outlined in the federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness (Opening Doors).
However, if our collaboration of the past few years has taught us anything, it is that keeping a clear a focus will help us move toward the finish line. With that in mind, a recently published document by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness outlines 10 essential strategies to help reduce chronic homelessness:
- Start at the Top: Get state and local leaders to publicly commit to and coordinate efforts on ending chronic homelessness.
- Identify and be accountable to all people experiencing chronic homelessness, including people cycling through institutional settings.
- Ramp up outreach, in-reach, and engagement efforts.
- Implement a Housing-First system orientation and response.
- Set and hold partners accountable to ambitious short-term housing placement goals.
- Prioritize people experiencing chronic homelessness for existing supportive housing.
- Project the need for additional supportive housing and reallocate funding to take it to the scale needed.
- Engage and support public housing agencies and multifamily affordable housing operators to increase supportive housing through limited preferences and project-based vouchers.
- Leverage Medicaid and behavioral health funding to pay for services in supportive housing.
- Help people increase their income through employment opportunities and connections to mainstream benefits and income supports.
Read the full document published by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness in December 2016.