We know what works. Philanthropy can help take it to scale.
We can end homelessness with coordinated, strategic investments – both public and private – in effective solutions. Or, put more simply, by funding what works.
The key is housing combined with the right supports for people who are or may become homeless. Housing-based solutions focus on moving people who are homeless into affordable rental housing and providing them with supports they need to remain there.
The traditional approach to homelessness focused on counseling and treating people with mental illnesses or those recovering from substance abuse while they lived in emergency shelters or on the streets. We now understand that approach to be putting the cart before the proverbial horse.
Research indicates that people experiencing homelessness need a stable living environment before they can benefit fully from support services and begin to achieve self-sufficiency. According to research by Corporation for Supportive Housing, it costs about the same to house someone in stable, supportive housing as it does to leave that person homeless and reliant upon high-cost crisis care and emergency housing. And housing results in better outcomes for both the person experiencing homelessness and the public systems that must otherwise respond to that person’s emergency needs.
What are Housing-based Solutions?
Permanent supportive housing is long-term, affordable rental housing linked to services to help formerly homeless people remain in their homes and achieve self-sufficiency. While temporary shelters and transitional housing can help people who are homeless manage short-term emergencies and bridge waiting periods for housing, these options are still a step or two away from living on the streets. Only a stable home can lift homeless individuals and families out of the chaos of crisis.
Supportive services tailored toward a person’s needs are an important component of housing-based solutions to homelessness. These services are designed to help people stabilize their lives, achieve self-sufficiency, and remain in their homes. Services may include:
- Help maintaining a lease, being a successful tenant, and other life skills training;
- Case management and connections to mainstream services such as health care;
- Assistance with post-secondary education, job training, and employment counseling.
Rapid re-housing recognizes that people are better able to stabilize their lives when living in their own homes instead of temporary shelter. The goal is to quickly move them into housing and provide support to help them remain there.
Prevention and diversion strategies help people avoid homelessness. Prevention targets people at imminent risk of homelessness and diversion targets people as they applying for entry into emergency shelter. Prevention and diversion services can include:
- Financial help to pay rent or utilities in arrears;
- Short-term cash assistance until a household can resume paying rent independently; and
- Case management and legal assistance to help a family remain in its current housing.
Creating a coordinated entry system – or standardizing the process for identifying and assisting people experiencing or at risk of homelessness – is also critical to the success of housing-based solutions. In a coordinated system, each entry point uses the same assessment tool and makes decisions with their clients about which programs will be most helpful to them.
How Can Philanthropy Support These Housing-based Solutions?
You, as both funder and community partner, have an important role to play in promoting, sustaining, and amplifying the movement to prevent and end homelessness.
Fund what works: The solutions described above are an excellent starting point. If you get stuck and want to learn how other funders are supporting housing-based solutions to homelessness, let us know and we can make the connections for you.
Support research and the use of quality data: We know that housing-based solutions work because we have the research and data to back them up. We will always need information about what works, what doesn’t, and why. Be a part of the continual effort to collect and share data.
Support technical assistance and capacity building: Foundations can play a critical role in helping established provider organizations, like emergency shelters and transitional housing programs, reorient their programs and policies and retrain their staff to focus on long-term housing.
Educate and advocate: Funders can support grassroots and other advocacy organizations to help create broad community support for housing-based solutions to homelessness.
Expand the supply of affordable housing: Funders can help expand the affordable housing supply by working with their communities to establish housing trust funds and by making program-related investments that fund rehabilitation, development, and maintenance of housing units. Read about Melville Charitable Trust's strategy to expand affordable housing here.
Interested in more information on the funder's role in ending homelessness? Take a look at our Grantmakers' Toolkit on Ending Homelessness.