Linking Human Services and Housing Supports to Address Family Homelessness: Promising Practices in the Field
The growing concern about family homelessness has renewed the focus among policymakers, researchers, advocates, and practitioners on the use of mainstream programs to prevent and end homelessness. The underlying belief is that programs explicitly for homeless people cannot be expected to do the whole job of preventing and ending family homelessness. Indeed, ever since the start of specialized federal funding for homeless people, it has been recognized that mainstream programs, such as Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), provide much greater resources than targeted programs for helping families leave homelessness.
It is within this context that the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) commissioned a study that focuses on local programs in 14 communities that link human services with housing supports to prevent and end family homelessness. (The Department is also engaged in a similar study that focuses on homeless individuals.) The primary goal of the study is to identify promising practices that facilitated the development, implementation, and sustainability of these programs.
UPDATE: The National Housing Trust Fund will be funded! Read more.
For millions, even an affordable rental apartment is still inaccessible in the United States.
Established by state, county, or city governments, housing trust funds provide dedicated sources of funding that support the creation and preservation of affordable housing. These funds are becoming more popular, in part because the model is flexible and revenue streams are not tied to annual budget allocations, ensuring a sustained and focused effort to make housing accessible. They are also effective, bringing in millions of dollars for affordable housing that will be here for years to come.
Find sample materials that can jumpstart a discussion about housing trust funds in your area.
Learn more about the National Housing Trust Fund, which was created by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008.
This collection of resources from the National Alliance to End Homelessness provides information about best practices and implementation strategies for front door strategies, such as coordinated intake, prevention, and diversion. By implementing these strategies, communities can decrease entries into homelessness.
This study from the HUD Office of Policy Development and Research examines costs associated with the use of homeless and mainstream service delivery systems by families and individuals experiencing homelessness for the first time in six study communities. Assigning costs to public programs is a first step toward developing measures of the value of public interventions compared to the public costs incurred by ignoring or avoiding the problems those interventions are intended to address. The study finds that the experience of homelessness is diverse and the associated costs vary tremendously depending on the pattern of homelessness and family or individual status. It is not, however, a study of either cost-effectiveness or quality of care, but rather a calculation of costs associated with homelessness.
This report from Project H.O.M.E aims to connect new research on Philadelphia with the multiple studies that conclude that housing, in combination with service supports for persons who are chronically homeless leads to a significant drop in acute services use and a net cost savings to the City and its taxpayers. In other words, addressing homelessness by providing permanent supportive housing both ensures quality of life for everyone and saves precious public resources.
This report focuses on people who are chronically homeless as opposed to those who are episodically homeless. Due to their increased utilization of physical and mental health, criminal justice, and other acute public services, chronically homeless persons account for a disproportionate share of public costs, though they constitute a small percentage of shelter users overall.
The issues facing people who are homeless are complex and cannot be solved in a one-size-fits-all approach – people are different and a variety of solutions are
needed for multiple sub-populations, including people with severe mental illnesses, substance abuse, those aging out of foster care, people with AIDS and chronic medical conditions, and others.
This report lays out the scope of chronic homelessness in Philadelphia and describes the expenses involved in ignoring the problem. Readers will find “Do the Math” highlights throughout this document which illustrate the cost savings associated with permanent housing with supports. It is our hope that this document will be used to:
- Influence policy-makers to make sound funding allocation decisions based on solid economic arguments;
- Inform residents of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods that increased quality of life can be attained for the entire community by resolving a person’s chronic homelessness;
- Serve as a resource for media contacts as they report on pressing community issues; and
- Contribute to a climate of recovery that promotes respect and higher quality of life for every individual in our community.
In a climate of growing need and shrinking resources, data is a critical management tool that helps communities better understand where efforts are achieving the desired impact and, in contrast, where changes are needed to improve results. These resources from USICH aim to help communities improve their data quality and use data more effectively to make policy, funding, and program design decisions.
- Performance Measurement of Homeless Systems
- What Gets Measured, Gets Done: Toolkit on Performance Measurement for Ending Homelessness
- Making the Most of HMIS Data: A Guide to Understanding Homelessness and Improving Programs in Your Community
- Building Knowledge, Effectiveness, and Capacity: Advancing Data on Homelessness in Eleven Communities
- The Community Perspective: Using Research and Technology to Identify Solutions to Prevent and End Homelessness
- Demonstrating the Uses of Homeless Data at the Local Level
- From Intake to Analysis: Developing a Continuum of Care Data Quality Plan
- Enhancing HMIS Data Quality
- HMIS Self-Assessment Tool
- HMIS Budget and Staffing Toolkit
Access these and other resources on the USICH website.
This paper assesses the age composition of the sheltered homeless population and how the age of this population – both single adults and adults in families – have changed over the past two decades. Data for this study came from administrative records on shelter use in New York City and from the nationwide shelter and general population enumerations in each of the last two decennial census enumerations.
In the late 1980s, homeless single adults and adults in families were relatively young, with the median age for both being in the late-twenties. Subsequently, however, these household types appear to have diverged, as the birth cohort from which the young single adults had come (born 1954-1965) has continued to be overrepresented in the shelter population, whereas homelessness among adults in families has remained linked to households in the early parenting years (ages 18-23). While the families and the single adults may have experienced some common precipitating factors that led to the emergence of homelessness in the 1980s, the young mothers appear to age out of their risk for homelessness while homelessness among this birth cohort of single adults sustains. Hypotheses are discussed regarding the social and economic factors that may be associated with disproportionate housing instability and homelessness among adults from the latter half of the baby boom cohort.
Implications for public policy are considered, including the premature risk of disability, frailty and mortality associated with this cohort.
Amidst concern about the implications of an aging U.S. population, recent evidence suggests that there is a unique aging trend among the homeless population. Building on this, we use data from New York City and from the last three decennial Census enumerations to assess how the age composition of the homeless population—both single adults and adults in families—has changed over time.
Findings show diverging trends in aging patterns for single adults and adults in families over the past 20 years. Among single adults, the bulk of the sheltered population is comprised of persons born during the latter part of the baby boom era whose high risk for homelessness has continued as they have aged. Specifically, the age group in this population facing the highest risk for homelessness was 34–36 (born 1954–1956) in 1990; 37–42 (born 1958–1963) in 2000; and 49–51 (born 1959–1961) in 2010. In contrast, among adults in sheltered families, there is no indication of any progressive aging of the family household heads. The modal age across the study period remains at 21–23 years of age.
This report considers implications for the health care and social welfare systems, and policy responses to homelessness.
Effectively implementing housing-based solutions to homelessness often requires non-profit service providers to shift their efforts toward prevention, diversion, rapid re-housing, and housing stability and away from more traditional, temporary shelter options.
Here is a set of questions to ask potential grantees when assessing where they are in terms of making that shift as well as their capacity to effectively implement or expand housing-based solutions. These questions were adapted from materials developed for Massachusetts grantmakers by The Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation.
- How would you describe homelessness in our community? How effective are the safety net services? How can we make those services more effective?
- Do you have a strategic plan that connects your work back to the broader goals of the community (such as the community’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, if one exists)?
- Where does your organization fall along the continuum of care for people experiencing homelessness? Are you committed to housing-based solutions?
- Do you/how do you help people experiencing homelessness move quickly into long-term housing and/or provide tailored services to help them remain housed?
Services and Supports
- Describe the supportive services you offer or connect to that help stabilize consumers in permanent homes.
- What conditions, such as sobriety or mandatory participation in mental health treatment, do you place on people who are accessing temporary shelter, long-term housing, and/or supportive services?
- Describe the homelessness prevention and diversion services you offer or connect to.
- How have you or how do you plan to retrain your staff toward housing-based services?
- If you have already retrained your staff, what outcomes are you seeing as a result?
Connections and Coordination
- How deep are your connections to other organizations in the community that serve homeless people, including other shelters and housing programs as well as hospitals, mental health facilities, and drug treatment programs?
- How deep are your relationships with landlords in the community? Do these relationships help homeless people have shorter stays in emergency shelter? Do they help consumers overcome financial, credit, and other barriers to housing?
- How skilled is your staff at helping people connect to mainstream services for low-income (not necessarily homeless or at-risk) people, such as health care, welfare, Headstart, education, and job training?
- Does the community have a coordinated entry program? If not, why? How can we make it happen? If yes, how well does it work for your organization and the people you serve?
Data, Outcomes, and Advocacy
- Can you measure your success with the people you serve? What outcomes do you track?
- How do you use data to improve your programs and services?
- How does your organization advocate on behalf of those you serve? Do you actively advocate for housing-based solutions to end homelessness?
Effective grantmaking is the critical role that philanthropic organizations—large and small; family, community, corporate, or private; focused on homelessness or on a variety of social services—can and must play in ending homelessness. Whether you give $5,000 to a flexible fund that provides rent and utility subsidies to at-risk families or $25,000 to help a transitional housing provider become a permanent supportive housing provider or make a $100,000 program-related investment toward affordable housing expansion, your funding organization can help to end homelessness.
Funders Together Resources
Funders networks have been critical to bringing together all kinds of grantmakers within a community and forging commitments to a systems approach. What are the key elements in building an effective funders network in your own community?
Giving a presentation and want to talk about building a funders network? Look no further for slides to educate your audience on the key elements of a successful funders network. This resource can serve as a stand-alone presentation.
In addition to the resources below, we reviewed multiple resources geared toward helping funders make more effective grants and developed a list of 10 general steps grantmakers should consider. This list was adapted from Philanthropy Northwest's Ending Homelessness: A Guide for Northwest Grantmakers.
- Have a vision and establish clear goals
- Understand the problem
- Identify your funding priorities
- Communicate with all potential partners and with your community
- Fund what works
- Advocate for what works
- Collaborate with partners to inform your work and leverage your investments
- Evaluate progress through data and outcomes measures
- Commit for the long term
- Share what you learn with peers, policymakers, providers, and the public
Still looking for more information? Let us know what you're interested in and we'll try to help.