About Beyond Shelter   

The History of “Housing First” for Families

Beyond Shelter – Los Angeles, California 1988 – 2012  


Fall 1988: Beyond Shelter was 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.

A new approach was envisioned 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 began operations with 10 staff, including Housing Specialists. Homeless families were enrolled from  from Referring Agencies from throughout L.A. County, including emergency shelters, transitional housing, and domestic violence shelters.  Within weeks, the first homeless families were 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.  By 2011, approximately 6,000 homeless families with children had been relocated from the emergency shelter/transitional housing systems in LA County into rental housing of their own.                                                                        


1993: The HUD Continuum of Care model was launched by the Clinton Administration. 

This new Continuum of Care model was in almost complete contradiction to the Housing First approach, which focused on helping people experiencing homelessness to move into rental housing in the community at-large and as quickly as possible. In the diagram below, 


Beyond Shelter’s recommendation for an additional trajectory was included in the final design, leading from emergency shelter directly to permanent or supportive housing.

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 Niños, 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—minus the time-limited rent subsidies.)

1992: Honorable Recognition by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness

1992: 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:

  • “25 U.S. Best Practices” at the UN Conference on Human Settlements, Habitat II, held in Istanbul, Turkey

  • “100 International Best Practices” – United Nations Centre on Human Settlements (UNCHS) 

  • 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 address 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 conducted 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 was slowly adapted in localities throughout the United States.

1990-2011 Workshops & Presentations by Beyond Shelter  

During that same period of time, more than 6,000 primarily single-parent homeless families were 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 approach on a national scale. The 2009 HEARTH Act mandated that Continuums of Care integrate housing first strategies into existing systems or that they implement new Rapid Rehousing programs to address family homelessness. By 2016, the HEARTH Act resulted in a perhaps unintended collapse of the emergency shelter / transitional housing continuum that had adapted in many ways to a “housing first” framework—but with the flexibility to provide the crisis intervention and short-term stabilization vitally necessary to successful implementation strategies. With many emergency shelters either closed or re-organized to resemble a chronically homeless “housing first” model, communities throughout the United States often found themselves with waiting lists and costly motel rooms serving as shelter.

In 2011Beyond Shelter’s Research, Training & Technical Assistance work was 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 merged with PATH, another Los Angeles-based nonprofit homeless organization, and now focuses on rapid re-housing programs for families in Los Angeles County.

See:  What We Did Wrong and How We Are Trying To Fix It

See:  U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness – Profile >>

Correction to Profile: Contact Information for Follow-up: Tanya@partnering-for-change.org



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.  By promoting adaptation of the four components of the innovation, organizations throughout the country began to integrate this new methodology into their existing homeless services systems.

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. With the Clinton Administration, however, the federal government began funding Continuums of Care strategies that focused on emergency shelters and transitional housing as necessary precursors to permanent housing. 

These new strategies were in almost direct contradiction to innovations in the field at the time. It could be argued that this delay in adapting “housing first” strategies for families with children when they were first piloted in 1988 was a direct causal factor for increasing family 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, added a new component: short-term, time-limited rent subsidies – and essentially adopted the single adult model of “housing first”—with disastrous results for many new federal programs mandated through the HEARTH Act.

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.


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