Program changes better meet the needs of chronically homeless families

For families living on low incomes that include an adult with disabilities, affordable housing can be nearly impossible to find, let alone keep. Many times, families rely on fixed income, essentially living “from crisis to crisis,” according to Sand Point Housing Residential Services Manager Tamara Brown.

By February, these transitional housing units at Sand Point will be converted into Permanent Supportive Family Housing.

In 2016, these transitional housing units at Sand Point Housing will be converted into Permanent Supportive Family Housing.

By February 2016, Solid Ground will have converted 26 transitional housing units at our Sand Point Housing campus to Permanent Supportive Housing to help address the needs of chronically homeless families. This conversion is in line with the Housing First strategy, which simply put, provides homes to people experiencing homelessness before addressing any addiction problems, criminal records, or other barriers they may have to accessing affordable housing.

“The idea is to stabilize the family first,” says Brown. “Then we look at the barriers and try to help the family address them. The program will make it easier for families to obtain and maintain housing.”

Housing First has not only been more effective in terms of keeping people housed, but it is also more cost effective. Solid Ground’s program differs from similar ones by providing homes to chronically homeless families, rather than individuals.

Sand Point’s new Permanent Supportive Housing units will have very low screening requirements, meaning that those with poor credit, substance abuse or mental health conditions, or past eviction, domestic violence or criminal histories will not be denied housing.

Brown explains that providing people in dire situations with immediate access to housing allows them to actually focus on recovery and stability. Once people have their basic needs met, they can begin to consider making changes that will improve their quality of life. “What many people don’t understand is that people don’t choose to be homeless – rather, they give in to being homeless … because it’s their best option right now, rather than living with domestic violence, dealing with untreated serious mental illness or addiction, or struggling with a limited income that won’t pay for an apartment. It’s the lack of choices that causes them to remain outside.”

As a result of the lower screening requirements, family members may require more support and access to services such as financial counseling, therapy and medical attention. In response to this predicted need, a Therapeutic Case Manager, trained to address the needs of the tenants, will offer support to residents, and case management staff will provide 24/7 coverage. Additionally, other Solid Ground programs and community supports will be available to provide a holistic array of services to residents.

Before the units open, a lot of work must be completed. Brown explains that families currently in the transitional Sand Point Family transitional housing units will be moving out, though each of them entered the program knowing that it was a 12-month, time-limited transitional program, designed for families to exit to permanent housing as they stabilized.

“There are a couple families who will have been here less than 12 months, but we are working really hard with them,” says Brown. “We sat down with all the families individually to figure out how to comfortably transition them into new housing.”

Once these families successfully find housing, the two buildings will be lightly renovated to meet the needs of the incoming families. For example, one of the transitional housing units will be converted into a community meeting space, in order to foster a supportive environment and communication between neighbors.

Units will be posted on Family Housing Connection in the next couple of weeks, and referrals will be accepted beginning at the end of November.

Advertisements

Family Homelessness 2.0

Editor’s note: This is reposted with permission from Impatient Optimists, the blog of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the authors.

By  , , Everyone deserves a home

Those of us who have been engaged in efforts to end family homelessness over the past decade need to acknowledge one of two things: Either the work is extremely complex and difficult, or we’re not very good at our jobs. While both of these statements could be true, given the time, talent, and passion that so many have been focusing on this issue for so long, we conclude (and hope) that the first statement is more accurate.There are many different crises that can catapult a family into homelessness: Loss of a job, domestic violence, accidents or serious illness, and inter-generational poverty – to name just a few. In addition, despite efforts to coordinate, past experiences in responding to homelessness have shown us that, although admirable, fragmented, non-integrated efforts to solve this problem by organizations and systems working independently and on their own have not stemmed the tide of this crisis.

The good news is that we now know what works: Coordinated Entry is an emerging practice that, when it is working effectively, helps to target equitably the right type and intensity of intervention to each family. Decades of practice (and tradition) have resulted in high levels of fragmentation across the many service systems families may touch in their efforts to seek stability. Coordinated entry offers a systemic intervention predicated on a very simple belief: Families in crisis should not have to “work the system” to find the supports that they need. Rather, the system should work for them.

In addition, rapidly returning families to permanent housing and connecting them to the specific supports and services they need to promote stability are proving in communities across the nation to be among the most efficient and effective ways to end family homelessness. Simply stated; families experiencing homelessness need housing first. This can be an uphill climb; in the current environment in the Puget Sound region affordable housing is a precious and scarce commodity. Providers working to quickly identify permanent housing for homeless families face daily challenges with rents increasing at record rates, inequities in access to housing, and extremely high competition for existing housing units.

Coordinated entry and promoting access to permanent housing and the right mix of services tailored to each family’s needs are critical first steps in moving toward solutions to family homelessness. Creating a systemic response that effectively responds to the complex, individual needs of each homeless family requires levels of collaboration and integration that have, historically, been unfamiliar and sometimes considered suspect by even the most dedicated system leaders and providers of care.

In this challenging context, introducing new, collaborative responses have proven difficult to organize and even harder to implement. Nevertheless, data from communities across the nation tells us we can be highly successful when our efforts are focused first and foremost on rapidly returning families to housing.

We haven’t always gotten these collective solutions right the first time around, despite the very best of intentions. Here in King County, for example, the first version of a coordinated entry system for homeless families – called Family Housing Connections – proved to be cumbersome and complex, and resulted in long waits for help that appeared on the surface to be worse than the chaotic absence of a collective response that had existed previously.

It’s a tribute to organizational leadership and line staff providers that we all didn’t throw up our hands in frustration and decide simply to return to the absence of a system we had before we started. Instead, leaders and providers worked together to carefully examine what was going wrong with the efforts – why families were waiting too long for assistance and housing – and revised the approach to address the specific problems that had been identified.

As a result, an overhaul of the King County family homelessness coordinated entry system is now underway, and as both NPR and the homeless newspaper Real Change have noted, we’re beginning to see improvements in both the length of time families wait for help and the speed with which they are being re-housed. With continued collaboration to implement more significant changes, even more dramatic improvements are imminent.

Mark Twain said that “Nobody likes change except a wet baby.” There’s a real truth there. Change is hard, especially when the changes being made are attempting to undo a crisis like family homelessness that has been decades in the making and is rooted in a constellation of economic, political, and social issues.

Looking at a problem from a systems perspective and making changes that promote collaborative solutions that were not in place before, can provide clear pathways to improved responses to the needs of those families experiencing the most extreme crises. It’s not easy. It’s not simple. It requires patience, and the willingness to look at what’s going badly in order to determine what needs to be done to do better.

That’s exactly what is happening right now in King County and in communities across the nation. All of us learn the hard way on a daily basis that new responses to extreme challenges like homelessness rarely get the solution right the first time around. Rather than abandoning all hope and returning to even more dysfunction, coming up with Version 2.0 of a solution can offer the promise of moving in the direction where we’re finally getting it right.

%d bloggers like this: