Family “Housing First” Strategies
The Housing First approach to ending family homelessness is premised on the belief that families are more responsive to interventions and support from a stable, permanent housing base – in other words, after they are assisted in moving into stable rental housing of their own, rather than while experiencing the trauma of homelessness.
Family Housing First has four key components: (1) crisis intervention and short-term case management; (2) screening and assessment for housing and services needs; (3) assistance in relocating to affordable permanent rental housing; and (4) case management after the move for a transitional period of time, while families are also being connected to community-based resources and services for longer-term needs that they may have.
Housing First for Families must always put children first – and therefore is NOT the same (and should never be implemented the same) as Housing First for CHRONICALLY HOMELESS individuals!
This faulty interpretation of a successful intervention for vulnerable families was never meant to endanger a child due to parental addiction, physical or emotional abuse or neglect, or any other potential child-endangering behaviors! In this approach to family homelessness, homeless families are assisted in accessing stable and affordable rental housing in the community at-large as quickly as possible, rather than remaining in shelters and transitional housing programs for months and/or years at a time. Once in permanent housing at rents they can afford, families are assisted in regaining stable living patterns or perhaps developing them for the first time.
Rapid Rehousing is a “subset” of Housing First for Families in which rent subsidies are provided for a limited period of time.
The initial Housing First pilot was launched by Beyond Shelter in Los Angeles County in 1988, in response to increasing numbers of families in the emergency shelter system and the realization that shelters and transitional housing could not keep up with the need. Advocating for the return of homeless families to permanent housing as quickly as possible, rather than enduring lengthy stays in emergency shelters and transitional housing, this new approach introduced an innovation in the field at the time.
In addition to helping families access rental housing, the services traditionally provided in transitional housing are instead provided to the family after relocation to permanent housing. Services are generally provided for from 6 months to one year, with the level of services provision determined by the intensity level of services needs. At the same time, families are assisted in connecting to resources in the community at-large responsive to their special needs.
The Key Components
(1) Crisis Intervention & Short-Term Stabilization: This phase includes helping families access emergency shelter services and address the most immediate crisis needs.
(2) Screening & Assessment for Housing & Services Needs: The “needs assessment” results in an “action plan,” which includes both short-term and- long-term goals and concrete action steps. This plan can be developed in incremental phases during or soon after the immediate crisis is temporarily addressed through emergency services.
(3) Assistance in Accessing Permanent Housing: After the completion of screening and assessment, the next phase involves assisting families in moving into permanent, affordable housing in a safe neighborhood. This includes not only helping them to overcome both personal and systemic barriers to obtaining permanent housing; the burden is placed directly upon Continuums of Care and the community at-large to make rental housing more affordable for each homeless family being served.
(4) Provision of Home-Based Case Management: After the move into permanent housing, time-limited case management services focus on helping families to regain stable living patterns or to gain them for the first time. At the same time, families are connected to community-based resources and services to meet longer-term needs. With permanent housing providing a stable base for parents and their children, family and child well-being are often attained in incremental steps.
The question of “mandatory services”
Because housing is a basic human right, participation in services should always be considered to be voluntary. This approach does not prevent the provision of services but instead recognizes that
(1) access to stable housing can promote and enhance parental engagement with services providers, and
(2) services needs often decrease over time as families attain improved stability and well-being.
But don’t some families require “mandatory participation” in case management services in order to “remain housed?”
(1) Access to stable housing often enhances and supports child welfare interventions.
(2) There is a growing evidence base that the provision of rent subsidies is the primary factor in preventing recidivism -not the provision of services.
The Housing First approach also means “housing choice.”