In 1988, Tanya Tull founded Beyond Shelter with an innovation in the field at the time – “housing first” – a new approach to ending homelessness that was targeted initially to homeless families cycling in and out of emergency shelters and transitional housing, often for years at a time. Through Beyond Shelter, she devoted the next 25 years to facilitating and promoting the scaling up of the “housing first” approach for families – on both a national and international scale.
Partnering for Change was founded in 2011, as an evolution of Tull’s earlier work in the field. The new organization, Partnering for Change, is an intentional “scaling up” of this paradigm for catalytic innovation: idea generation, program experimentation, and knowledge dissemination for systems transformation.
Initially focused on the provision of technical assistance and consulting on Housing First strategies as applied to Rapid Re-housing models for homeless and precariously housed families, in 2012 Partnering for Change began to explore the feasibility of housing interventions at an earlier stage.
With a growing evidence-base on the impact of housing instability on child and family well-being, the organization began reaching out to researchers in the field to understand more about their work and its relevance to the direction we were taking. Outreach to national policy and advocacy groups representing diverse services sectors, including child and family services, child welfare, education, workforce development, and healthcare – further supported the thesis that indicators of housing distress at mainstream and community-based organizations often go undetected until the crisis escalates, that direct services staff often lack the training and necessary resources to successfully address housing-related problems, and that housing instability may have greater detrimental impact on services delivery for non-housing related needs than generally perceived.
The new effort – early identification of and timely and appropriate responses to indicators of housing distress among vulnerable families with children – promotes the adaptation and integration of strategies that have successfully stabilized homeless families in adequate and permanent housing in the community at-large into the protocols and practices of mainstream systems.
At the same time, Partnering for Change also provides guidance and support to programs serving homeless families to help them integrate “common sense” strategies into “housing first” protocols and practices as currently being implemented under the federal government’s Rapid Re-Housing programs. In “housing first,” everyone is ready for housing – and a main focus of services providers and systems must then be to ensure that housing is both available and affordable. However, in Housing First for families with children, services are provided as necessary, based on child and family need. Additionally, families in which a child is at risk must be evaluated and served with child safety at the highest of priorities… in this case, before “housing first.”
NOTE: Although “HOUSING FIRST” for the chronically homeless is not the same as “Housing First” for families, the HEARTH Act language does not differentiate…. The “housing first” approach is used as if it were a universal definition of a program methodology. In fact, the alternative is true! The term “housing first” refers to an approach – one in which efforts to help homeless men, women, and children to access stable and “permanent” housing is the focus of services intervention.
The first Los Angeles demonstration of the Housing First approach to ending homelessness was targeted to families with children, although it was understood from inception that the basic program methodology was applicable to all homeless populations – albeit of necessity implemented in different ways. Rather than promoting replication of its Family Housing First demonstration as operated in Los Angeles, California, Beyond Shelter instead promoted adaptation of the key generic components of the innovation, in order to be compatible with and responsive to the available resources and identified needs of local communities, including smaller cities and rural areas, and diverse homeless populations.
Under the Obama Administration, the “housing first” approach became the underlying rationale behind the changes mandated in the 2009 HEARTH Act (Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing). With the HEARTH Act , “housing first” as a key strategy to help direct and inform programs to help people become housed as quickly as possible, was codified into law. Beyond Shelter’s role as a catalytic facilitator for systems change was key to this remarkable transformation within the homeless advocacy culture at a national level – leading eventually to systems change within federal departments. Today, communities across the country are implementing Rapid Re-housing programs, although often faulty interpretations of information and confusing terminology are preventing the successful outcomes seen in earlier family-focused “housing first” programs.
The major confusion has evolved from a mixing up of family-centered “housing first” protocols and practices with those of “housing first” for chronically homeless individuals.
The Evolution of “Housing First” to End Family Homelessness
Thinking Out of the Box – A Case Study
Although the 1988 launching of Beyond Shelter’s Housing First approach to ending family homelessness was initially targeted to families with children, the new paradigm was applicable to all homeless populations – albeit of necessity implemented in different ways. As Beyond Shelter began sharing the methodology on both a national and international scale, program methodology was scaled down to “key components,” facilitating adaptation in the field. Rather than promoting replication of its Family Housing First demonstration as operated in Los Angeles, California, Tanya instead promoted adaptation of the key generic components of the innovation. In this way, organizations throughout the country began to integrate this new methodology into their existing homeless services system – compatible with and responsive to the available resources and identified needs of local communities, including smaller cities and rural areas.
During these same early years, scattered programs in diverse areas of the country also began assisting homeless families to move into permanent housing – often after attending a national or regional workshop conducted by Beyond Shelter. In the early 1990’s, the federal government began funding Continuums of Care strategies that focused on emergency shelters and transitional housing. These new strategies promoted by the Clinton Administration, were in almost direct contradiction to innovations in the field focusing on “housing first” strategies. It could, in fact, be argued that this delay in adapting “housing first” strategies when they were first piloted in the late 1980’s was a direct causal factor for increasing homelessness in America today.
Under the Bush Administration, a focus on ending chronic homelessness emerged and the Pathways to Housing program model in NYC became tightly associated with the term Housing First. During the Obama Administration, a renewed effort on family and youth homelessness led to a new terminology to help differentiate Housing First for the chronically homeless from the “housing first” approach itself. This new term, Rapid Re-Housing, was essentially the same as Housing First as applied to families and non-chronically homeless individuals – but added a new component: short-term, time-limited rent subsidies.
Since that time, there have been dramatic changes in homeless services systems across the country. Unfortunately, implementation strategies for diverse homeless populations have been at times misdirected and confusing due to the linking of Housing First to strategies that should only be directed to chronically homeless individuals, not to families with children.
Family Housing First in Los Angeles, California 1988-2012
Fall 1988: Beyond Shelter is founded in response to increasing numbers of homeless families in Los Angeles County and the need for a more comprehensive approaching to serving them. Homeless families were cycling in and out of emergency shelters and, if they were able to move into rental housing, they often became homeless again. Tanya Tull envisions a new approach, in which homeless families would be assisted in moving into permanent housing as quickly as possible, rather than remain in emergency shelter for months at a time. Once in housing at rents they could afford, families would be provided home-based case management for up to one full year to help them stabilize and connect to resources and services in the community at-large.
Within three months of incorporation, the Housing First Program begins operation with 10 staff, including Housing Specialists, receiving referrals of homeless families from Referring Agencies from throughout L.A. County, including emergency shelters, transitional housing, and domestic violence shelters. Within weeks, the first homeless families are moved into permanent, scattered-site rental housing located in diverse residential neighborhoods of L.A. County – each with their own lease. Within a few years, the Housing First Program had more than 100 staff and more than 60 different Referral Agencies – and was relocating approximately 300 homeless families from homelessness per year.
This represents the first Housing First program in the United States.
1991-1993: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funds the Housing First Program, as one of the first five federal demonstrations on family homelessness. The Early Intervention Demonstration Project for Recently Homeless and At-Risk Families was a collaborative effort, with outreach and intake of homeless and precariously housed families conducted at Para Los Ninos, a Skid Row child and family services agency, and permanent housing relocation and one full year of home-based case management provided by Beyond Shelter. (This program model was, in fact, almost an exact replication of the federal Rapid Re-Housing programs funded 20 years later under the Obama Administration!)
1992: Recognition by the U.S. Interagency Coucil on Homelessness & Beyond Shelter’s first out-of-state workshop on the model is conducted in Columbus, Ohio. Subsequent training and workshops are conducted throughout the U.S. over the next 15 years.
1992-1995: The second federal demonstration project – The Homeless Families Support Center Demonstration Project, also funded by HHS, continues federal support for the Housing First Program for Families.
1995-1996: Beyond Shelter participates in the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) Program in the City of Los Angeles, one of 5 sites nation-wide, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) and in collaboration with the Fair Housing Council of Los Angeles and the Housing Authority, City of Los Angeles; the model of housing relocation and home-based case management after the move is adapted from the Housing First Program.
1996: The Housing First Program (then called the Transition Program for Homeless Families) receives the following recognition:
- 1. one of “25 U.S. Best Practices” to represent the U.S. at the UN Conference on Human Settlements, Habitat II, held in Istanbul, Turkey
- 2. one of “100 International Best Practices” chosen by the United Nations Centre on Human Settlements (UNCHS) at the UN Conference
- 3. the 1996 Nonprofit Sector Award from the National Alliance to End Homelessness
2000: The Housing First Program is chosen as one of 19 “Solutions for America” by the Pew Partnership for Civic Change – a national initiative to see what works in communities across the U.S. See: Solutions for America
National Alliance to End Homelessness contracts with Beyond Shelter to adapt key components of “Family Housing First” as the lead strategy to adress family homelessness for the prototype “10-Year Plan to End Homelessness” developed as a guide for communities nationwide.
From 1990 through 2011, Beyond Shelter’s Institute for Research, Training, and Technical Assistance conducts over 200 workshops and presentations in over 75 communities, 30 states, and Puerto Rico – including national two-day workshops held in Los Angeles and Washington, DC, often co-sponsored by the National Alliance to End Homelessness and other leading advocacy groups. Over the years, the methodology is slowly adapted in localities throughout the United States.
During that same period of time, more than 6,000 homeless families in Los Angeles are relocated to rental housing in residential neighborhoods located throughout L.A. County, with the provision of 6 months to one full year of case management support after the move.
Beyond Shelter’s leadership worked closely over the years with national advocacy groups to promote the adoption of the Family Housing First/Rapid Rehousing approach on a national scale. This goal was achieved in 2009, when the federal government codified Rapid Rehousing into federal law through the HEARTH Act. The 2009 HEARTH Act mandates that Continuums of Care integrate housing first strategies into existing systems or that they implement new Rapid Rehousing programs to address family homelessness. As a result, communities throughout the United States are transitioning existing homeless services systems to rapid re-housing models based on the original key components pioneered by Beyond Shelter in 1988.
In 2011, with its major goals accomplished, the work of Beyond Shelter’s Institute for Research, Training & Technical Assistance is transferred to Partnering for Change, incorporated as a separate 501(c)(3) organization led by Beyond Shelter’s founder, Tanya Tull.
In 2012, Beyond Shelter merges with PATH, another Los Angeles-based nonprofit homeless organization, and is re-named PATH Beyond Shelter. The revisioned organization now focuses on Housing First / rapid re-housing programs for families in Los Angeles County.
Correction to Profile: Contact Information for Follow-up: Tanya@partnering-for-change.org