Feb 09, 2012

Jake Maguire's picture Posted By Jake Maguire

Ending Homelessness for Chronic and Vulnerable Families

It’s one of the most heartbreaking things we see on the streets-- families, often with with young children, lacking any place to call home. From the outset, the vision for the 100,000 Homes Campaign has included homeless families, and in the coming months, we’ll be stepping up our efforts to help communities identify vulnerable families and move them into appropriate housing that meets their service needs and keeps them together.

We’re also launching an effort to identify Campaign partners-- like the Corporation for Supportive Housing in Chicago, the Brownsville Partnership in Brooklyn, and UMOM New Day Centers in Phoenix-- that have had strong success working with homeless families and identify the key things that all communities in this movement can learn from their efforts. CSH, for example, is already hard at work conceptualizing a potential Vulnerability Index for Families, and several other campaign communities have in place tools or strategies that may be candidates for dissemination throughout the Campaign.
While we are intent on learning more about the best practices in family homelessness in the future, we also know some key things already through the pioneering research of people like Dennis Culhane. Culhane’s work has shown that homeless families are unique in a several ways. For starters, most of them-- well over 75%-- find their way out of homelessness on their own, while a small portion-- about 5%-- return to the shelter system over and over. Roughly 20% of homeless families experience very long shelter stays and are responsible for consuming 50% of all resources spent on responding to family homelessness.
Unlike homeless individuals, however, long stays do not always indicate personal barriers to housing stability. In fact, in many communities across the U.S., it is policies and programs that are driving long shelter stays for homeless families, not individual family characteristics. In other words, longer stays cannot be attributed to families lacking “housing readiness” or experiencing particularly complex obstacles to permanent housing. In fact, the opposite is often true: the most costly service users are often not the most service-needy among homeless families.
Clearly, a specific, well-researched and targeted intervention strategy is necessary to help this unique population access permanent housing.That’s why the 100,000 Homes Campaign support staff will be working with Campaign communities this year to find and highlight bright spots across the country and begin refining a homeless services system for families that does each of the following:
  • Uses a housing-first philosophy and Rapid Re-Housing strategies
  • Quickly identifies and moves into permanent housing those families that meet the federal HEARTH definition of chronic homelessness
  • Uses valid and reliable assessments to help determine the right resources to be connected with homeless families to end their homelessness and ensure housing stability
  • Secures set-asides of housing vouchers for chronic and vulnerable homeless families with local Public Housing Authorities

If you want to be part of this work, or especially if your community has developed innovative tools and strategies for helping homeless families access permanent housing, we want to hear from you. Contact your Campaign field organizer (Mike Shore for the Western US, Linda Kaufman for the Eastern US, Leslie Wise for Los Angeles) or look for us at this week’s National Alliance to End Homelessness conference in Los Angeles on homeless youth and families.

Together, we can find permanent homes for the chronic and vulnerable homeless families in our communities.