Responding to America's Challenges
The Problem: Ending & Preventing Family Homelessness
one of our nation's most serious social problems. While it is often
the result of interwoven systemic and personal problems, the
primary cause of homelessness among families is the growing gap
between housing costs and income. The emergency shelter system
is able to accommodate only a small fraction of the growing
number of homeless families in need. Families are forced to live in
their cars, in garages, in other places unfit for human habitation
or to move from place to place with their children, staying
intermittently with friends and families. Even a short period of
homelessness can lead to depression, mental illness and child
neglect, yet increasing numbers of families are homeless for months
and sometimes years. Emergency shelters are unable to provide the
intensive long-term assistance which homeless families require in
order to stabilize their lives. While transitional housing programs
do provide such assistance, families are more
responsive to service interventions from a stable,
permanent housing base.
According to the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development, we are now experiencing a period when
worst-case housing needs are at an all-time high. While some
communities are beginning to see reductions in
chronic homelessness, in many communities family
homelessness is exploding and families with children
are the fastest growing segment of the homeless
population. Many experts attribute the increase in
the number of homeless families to a combination of
the following factors:
- Welfare reform
- High rates of domestic violence
- Declining purchasing power of low-wage jobs
- Decrease in availability of affordable family housing
Responses to Date
For most of the past two decades, public and private solutions to homelessness have focused on providing homeless families with emergency shelter and/or transitional housing. While such programs may provide vital access to services for families in crisis, they often fail to address the long-term needs of homeless families. Families need help in finding affordable housing, negotiating
developing the skills to stay housed. Once a family becomes
homeless, it is extremely difficult to get back into rental housing. There is a
shortage of affordable housing available, particularly for larger families with
children, and most property owners will not rent to a
family that has a poor credit history or a previous eviction. Particularly single mothers
face enormous obstacles in finding
affordable, appropriate rental housing. Most property owners require security deposits
along with first and last month's
rent, and there are often deposits required to obtain utility service, especially if the renter has a history of nonpayment. Additionally, emergency shelters and transitional programs rarely
assist families in overcoming the tremendous barriers they face in accessing permanent housing, such as poor credit and eviction histories, unemployment and lack of move-in funds. Left
unaddressed, these factors can result in a family crisis leading to renewed homelessness.
For those families who do find
permanent housing, many would benefit from a variety of supportive services to
help them stabilize and be linked to community-based resources and services.
However, there are often limited or scattered support systems for families who
are not living in a shelter or transitional housing program, and many
communities either lack programs that address these interwoven causes of family
homelessness, or those programs that do exist are not easily accessible or are
hard to navigate without assistance.
The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, in its
study Families on the Move, Breaking the Cycle of
Homelessness (1996), confirmed that recently housed families are at severe risk of becoming homeless again in the near future. This is particularly true
today. Long-established homeless providers testify that families in recent years are more dysfunctional than families of a few years ago. Additionally, homeless family members often suffer from extremely low self-images and multiple
problems and typically have a history
of domestic violence and/or substance abuse.
Linkages to permanent
housing, support services to retain housing, and
coordination of resources and services available in
the community at-large are indispensable to ending
and preventing family homelessness.
or rapid re-housing as it is also known, is an alternative to the current system of emergency
shelter/transitional housing, which tends to prolong the length of time that
families remain homeless. The methodology is premised on the belief that
vulnerable and at-risk homeless families are more responsive to interventions
and social services support after they are in their own housing
than while living in temporary/transitional facilities or housing programs. With permanent
housing, these families can begin to regain the self-confidence and control over their lives they lost when they became homeless.
For over 20 years,
the housing first methodology has proven to be a practical means to ending
and preventing family homelessness. The methodology is currently being adapted by organizations throughout the United
States through Beyond Shelter's Institute
for Research, Training and Technical Assistance
and the National Alliance to End
Homelessness' Housing First Network
Recognized as a dramatic new response to the
problem of family homelessness, the housing first approach stresses the return of families to
independent living as quickly as possible. Created as a time-limited relationship designed to empower participants and foster self-reliance, not engender dependence, the
housing first methodology:
- provides crisis intervention to address immediate family needs, while
simultaneously or soon thereafter assisting families to develop
permanent housing and social service plans;
- helps homeless
families move into affordable rental housing in residential
neighborhoods as quickly as possible, most often with their own lease agreements;
- then provides six months to one year of individualized, home-based social services support "after the move" to help each family transition to stability.
The housing first approach provides a link between the emergency
shelter/transitional housing systems that serve homeless families and the
mainstream resources and services that can help them rebuild their lives in
permanent housing, as members of a neighborhood and a community. In addition
to assisting homeless families in general back into housing, the approach can offer an individualized and structured plan of action for
alienated, dysfunctional and troubled families, while providing a responsive
and caring support system.
The combination of housing relocation
services and home-based case management enables homeless families to break the
cycle of homelessness. The methodology facilitates long-term stability and
provides formerly homeless families who are considered at risk of another episode of homelessness
with the support and skill building necessary to remain in
The Housing First Approach is Implemented Through Four Primary Stages:
- Crisis Intervention & Short-Term Stabilization: This phase includes helping families access emergency shelter services
and/or short-term transitional housing and address crisis needs.
- Screening, Intake and Needs Assessment: The"needs assessment" results in an action plan for clients, which includes
short- and- long-term goals and objectives with concrete action steps. This can
occur immediately or after families are stabilized in emergency services.
- Provision of Housing Resources: After the completion of screening and assessment, the next phase involves assisting families in moving
into permanent, affordable housing in a safe neighborhood. This is accomplished by helping them overcome various barriers to obtaining permanent housing.
- Provision of Case Management: Before the move into permanent housing, case management
services help to identify clients' needs and to ensure families have sources of income through employment and/or public benefits.
After the move, time-limited case management services focuses on helping families solve problems
that may arise and to connect them with community services
to meet longer-term needs.
While acknowledging and addressing the personal factors that contribute to family homelessness, the
housing first methodology was designed to more effectively address the economic root cause of the problem: the lack of affordable housing. The program provides a critical link between the emergency/transitional housing system and the community-based social
service, educational and health care organizations that bring about neighborhood integration and family self-sufficiency.
The approach deals with the
interrelated problems that homeless families face: poverty, economic
development, social infrastructure and housing. Services are provided in an
integrated, holistic manner to place families, primarily female-headed
households, not only back into housing, but into communities. It involves them
in a progressive set of economic
and social services after they are stabilized in permanent housing and are no
longer traumatized by the crisis of homelessness.
Central to the effectiveness of
housing first is the concept that empowerment helps clients identify their own needs, recognize the choices they have, create options for
themselves and plan strategies for permanent change in their lives.
Evolving in an era of shrinking resources, the
housing first approach places great emphasis on reducing duplication of effort and maximizing the effectiveness of community resources. By situating homeless
families within the larger community, the program fosters human connection. The
methodology is a cost-effective model that coordinates many existing systems and services, rather than creating new ones.
To read about Beyond Shelter's Housing
First Program in Los Angeles,
please click here
To view the Seaver Study Policy Brief
longitudinal study of Beyond Shelter's "Housing First" Program participants, please click
To learn about the Pew Partnership's
Initiative - Wanted: Solutions for America
how Beyond Shelter's "Housing First" Program was
recognized as a "Solution for America" by the Pew
Partnership, please click here
To read Housing
First For Families: Research to Support the
Development of a Housing First for Families Training
, conducted by the National Alliance
to End Homelessness, please click here
To read about Beyond Shelter's methodology manual
providing step-by-step guidance to adapting the
"Housing First" methodology, please click here
To read The "Housing First" Approach For Families Affected by
an article by Tanya Tull, Beyond Shelter
please click here
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Initiatives Table of Contents.