Regardless of the permanent housing and/or homeless intervention model being provided, families who become homeless often require “emergency shelter” while efforts to help them move into rental housing are in process.
Even in Housing First/Rapid Rehousing programs, to adequately assess, plan, implement the plan, access subsidies, negotiate leases, and actually move families into permanent housing that is appropriate for the entire family’s needs, including, in many cases, maintaining a child in their current school – could take time. Emergency shelter for homeless families should be, however, short-term, family-friendly, cost-effective, prevent multiple relocations, and be connected to services leading as quickly as possible to permanent housing.
Responding to increased demand for shelter nationally, while promoting cost-effective shelter models focused on rapidly re-housing homeless households, the use of master-leased and furnished apartments in the community at-large has emerged.
The scattered-site apartment model can be flexible with admission criteria and program rules without having to restrict participation to clients with a certain profile. This flexibility is critical to meeting the special needs of families who are often excluded by or terminated from conventional programs.
While ground rules are still important in these settings, such rules are more amenable and responsive to individual need. The model also offers a less stigmatized living environment than most traditional options, as families live in an apartment within a community. Having privacy, their own furnishings, full kitchens, and other amenities promote a sense of stability and normalcy.
The master-leased apartment model, moreover, serves as an effective engagement tool, enabling service providers to build trust and rapport with sometimes alienated families and facilitating their involvement with voluntary case management services. Such engagement is critical to a family’s success in accessing and stabilizing in permanent housing.
This model offers a family-friendly alternative to conventional arrangements, has the potential to effectively neutralize “NIMBYism” through its scattered-site design, and gives policymakers and practitioners the ability to quickly increase or decrease shelter capacity based on community needs. In addition, the model is easily adaptable to suburban and rural communities that typically have limited shelter capacity, but have vacant single-family and multi-family rental units. Furthermore, the model provides a means to allow homeless families to stay in their home communities and schools.
Localities struggling to meet shelter requests should consider expanding program capacity through this approach. Special consideration should be given to determining the appropriateness of the model for various subgroups of homeless families as well as identifying funding sources for programs.