19th December
written by Norm Suchar

During last summer’s conference, we did an exercise that demonstrates to an audience how a progressive engagement process works. Progressive engagement refers to a strategy of providing a small amount of assistance to everybody who enters your homelessness system, then waiting to see if that works. If it doesn’t, you provide more assistance and wait to see if that works. If not, you apply even more, until eventually you provide your most intensive interventions to the few people who are left. We did the exercise with an audience of about 75 people. Here’s how it worked:

Step 1: Everybody in the room stands up signifying that they are entering a shelter.

Step 2: People with birth dates in January through March sit down. They represent the roughly quarter of the the homeless populations whose homeless episode is a week or less. (This is calculated using data from HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report. The figure was actually 27.8 percent.)

Step 3: People with birth dates in May through December sit down. They represent the people served through a rapid re-housing intervention. HPRP rapid re-housing programs re-house approximately 90 percent of people who enroll. The people born in April (who are standing that this point) represent people for whom rapid re-housing is more challenging, including people who are on sex offender registries, for example.

Step 4: People with November and December birthdates stand back up. They represent the ones for whom a small amount of rapid re-housing assistance, which may include short-term rental assistance, did not entirely solve their crisis, so more assistance was needed. For those individuals, a more intensive re-housing intervention, which may include one to two years of housing subsidy and intensive case management, is provided. Once this is explained, the November and December birthdays sit back down as their housing was again stabilized.

Step 5: The December birth dates stand back up. They represent the small number of people for whom the more intensive intervention will not entirely solve the problem. These are people who need long term housing and services to remain in stable housing. They are provided with permanent supportive housing and sit back down.

The precise proportions of people who fall into these categories involves some guesswork. I used data from the typologies of single adults and families with children that were published by Culhane, et al. The single adult data, for example, showed that 10 percent of single adults experience chronic homelessness and need permanent supportive housing, roughly equivalent to one month’s worth of birthdays.

I also used data from other cities such as Salt Lake City, Utah to try to identify what percentage of people who need more intensive re-housing and case management. If anything, I believe that the exercise generally overestimated the share of people who needed more intensive assistance to remain in permanent housing, but it was close.

There is obviously much more nuance involved in designing a progressive engagement process, and our National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness in Seattle will go into much more depth. However, this provides a general sense of how the process works.

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12th December
written by Norm Suchar

Earlier this week, I participated in a webinar with our friends at the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) and Joyce Probst MacAlpine from Dayton/Montgomery County, Ohio about thinking strategically about the NOFA for the the Continuum of Care (CoC) Program. The webinar should be posted on USICH’s website in the next few days. In the meantime, it’s worth reiterating and expanding on a few points about the tiering process and how to get the most out of it.

Across the board cuts are probably a bad strategy.
Many CoCs are struggling with how to prioritize renewals, and are considering an across the board cut approach, but that could hurt your CoC. Let’s take a simple hypothetical example of a CoC that has an annual renewal demand of $1 million, which consists of 10 renewal projects that are each $100,000. The across the board cuts approach would be to cut each project’s renewal by 3.5 percent. That CoC would put all of their renewals in Tier 1 at $96,500 each, and they would likely be funded. The overall amount the CoC receives would be approximately $965,000. There would be little likelihood of getting any more funding because the CoC would have no renewals in Tier 2.

Now let’s assume that CoC instead placed the nine best performing renewals in Tier 1 in their entirety ($900,000) and reallocated $65,000 of the funding from the lowest performing renewal project and placed the reallocation in Tier 1, leaving $35,000 for that lower performing project and placing it in Tier 2. That CoC would likely get the same $965,000 for their Tier 1 projects, and they would have a reasonable chance of getting the additional $35,000 for the Tier 2 renewal.

Reallocating projects and placing them in Tier 1 is a good strategy.
One of the important features to understand about this NOFA is that reallocation projects that are placed in Tier 1 are as safe as renewal projects placed in Tier 1. That is, if the project crosses threshold requirements, it will get funded. In addition to the safety of the reallocation strategy, the NOFA describes additional points that CoCs can receive through reallocation. For example, points will be awarded for CoCs that “specifically describe how the length of time that individuals and families remain homeless will be reduced,” and for CoCs that “increase the number of permanent housing beds specifically for chronic homeless individuals and families in the jurisdiction.” A reallocation project can help with both of these criteria.

One thing that is much less certain is the fate of reallocated projects in Tier 2. Nobody knows how much funding will be available for Tier 2 projects, however, there is a good chance that there will only be enough for some of the Tier 2 renewals, which would mean that Tier 2 new or reallocation projects would not get funded.

The best strategy for the long run is to “put your best team on the field.
Sports analogies may be overused, but this one fits. When deciding which programs to place in Tier 1, CoCs should prioritize the ones that will give them the best outcomes on HEARTH Act measures, including reducing homelessness the most, reducing lengths of homeless episodes, reducing returns to homelessness, and increasing income and employment.

This NOFA is a marked change from previous NOFAs because it places much more emphasis on performance. I did a rough calculation of how many points are performance related. Of the 130 points available, 91 are related to performance—26 points for collecting data related to performance, 22 points for the actual outcomes achieved, and 43 points for strategies that improving performance. That’s a lot of points, and future CoC NOFAs will likely continue or expand this performance focus.

Underscoring all these strategies is the need for an objective process for determining which projects contribute most to performance. There are many programs that are viewed in their communities as good performers that really aren’t. The opposite is true as well. I have spoken with many providers who ironically don’t think very highly of their own programs, even when their CoC’s HMIS data show that they are performing very well.

If you have additional tips, comments, or questions, please send them our way.

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6th December
written by Anna Blasco

Today we’ve released the fifth and final training module in a five-part training series on rapid re-housing. In this short video, Alliance Capacity Building Associate Kimberly Walker discusses outcomes and evaluations, and provides community examples. When we conduct our rapid re-housing clinics in person, this portion of the training is usually where participants have the most questions and feedback.

If you have missed the previous modules, don’t worry, you can find them here:

  1. Housing Barriers Assessment,
  2. Housing Search and Location/Developing Relationships with Landlords,
  3. Designing Subsidies, and
  4. Voluntary Service Provision.

We love to receive your questions and feedback! Email us at or leave a comment below.

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3rd December
written by Sharon McDonald

In July, The White House recognized Frank Cirillo, Director of the Mercer County Board of Social Services (MCBOSS) in Trenton, NJ as a “Champion of Change” for his work on ending family homelessness. It was well deserved recognition.

Cirillo’s agency, which administers the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, has taken a leadership role in the effort to end family homelessness in Mercer County. The agency’s efforts have paid off. Over a two year period, the number of families experiencing homelessness on any given day in Cirillo’s county decreased by 20 percent. The number of families receiving a motel voucher because they had nowhere else to stay declined by 66 percent.

How did this happen? It happened because this TANF agency and its partners focused on helping families in the Mercer County homeless service system exit homelessness faster by providing:

  • Temporary rental assistance;
  • Help negotiating with area landlords;
  • Assistance finding employment; and
  • Supportive Services.

When families move out of homelessness faster, the numbers of families in shelters each day decline. That means that the county doesn’t need to rely as heavily on motels when shelters are full. This strategy can free up funding, which can be used to help families move back into housing.

Leaders of the TANF agency were so pleased with the results that they decided to expand rapid rehousing capacity in the community by creating an in-house rapid re-housing unit. The agency staff of this unit help families look for housing in the community, negotiate with landlords (often achieving rent reductions), and ensure that families access employment services, so they can transition from temporary rental assistance to paying their rent independently.

It was the work of homeless advocates that led TANF leaders to make this investment in rapid re-housing. The Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness engaged TANF agency leaders and other local funders in an exploration of how the county’s homeless assistance system could be improved, which led to a commitment by funders to supporting rapid re-housing.

On Thursday, December 6 at 3 p.m. EST, the National Alliance to End Homelessness will host a webinar that will explore how homeless advocates and service providers are effectively partnering with TANF leaders in their communities to promote rapid re-housing.

The webinar will explore the rapid re-housing models in use in three communities and how the local leaders on homelessness successfully built partnerships with their local TANF agency leaders to rapidly re-house families.

Speakers will include:

  • Herb Levine of the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness
  • Michelle Flynn of The Road Home in Salt Lake City, and
  • Greg Morris of CATCH, Inc. in Boise.

Please consider participating in the webinar on Thursday. You can register here.

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14th November
written by Kim Walker

Hi all!

Today we’re excited to introduce the first in a new series of vlogs that concentrates on answering five questions on some of the most important and relevant topics in homeless assistance. Today’s blog is on coordinated assessment, where we cover topics ranging from serving domestic violence survivors to developing assessment tools. Each of these videos will feature Capacity Building staff talking about common questions that we at the Center have been asked recently. If there’s a topic you’d like us to cover next, let us know by emailing

For more resources on coordinated assessment, please see the Alliance’s toolkit.

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7th November
written by Anna Blasco

Today we’ve released the fourth in a five-part training series on rapid re-housing. This short video training focuses on providing supportive services as a part of a rapid re-housing model, and is conducted by Kay Moshier McDivitt. (Before watching this module, I recommend watching the three previous modules on Housing Barriers AssessmentHousing Search and Location/Developing Relationships with Landlords, and Designing Subsidies.)

The rapid re-housing approach includes a different method of providing services than you may be familiar with. Before a person is housed through rapid re-housing, services focus on any barriers they may have to obtaining housing. Once they move in, services focus on addressing the barriers that may prevent someone from maintaining housing. Additionally, services in rapid re-housing are voluntary.

The modules include narrated PowerPoint presentations, as well as activities you can do to enhance your content knowledge. Any questions on the modules should be directed to

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31st October
written by Anna Blasco

Last month I had the opportunity to attend a training workshop on rapidly re-housing survivors of domestic violence. The workshop was conducted by Kris Billhardt, Director of Volunteers of America, Oregon’s Home Free program, who is a longtime advocate and has worked in the movement against domestic violence for nearly three decades. Her program has achieved some impressive results. From 2010 to 2011, 90 percent of the survivors who received Housing First services from Home Free attained safe, permanent housing, and 80 percent remain safely housed 12 months after exiting the program.

If you want to learn more about Home Free, you can read this best practice paper on Home Free, check out our domestic violence toolkit, or contact Kris about conducting a training workshop in your community.

Home Free’s philosophy is to give every domestic violence survivor a chance. The initial assessment they conduct is not about screening people out of the program; instead it’s about discovering any barriers that may keep the survivor from housing. Kris noted that it is impossible to know immediately who will be successful and who will not. People are resourceful, and can often surprise us. For this reason, the intake process at Home Free is minimally-intrusive and conversational. The advocate serves as a partner, and lets the survivor lead the way in determining how much help  she needs to end her homelessness.

Home Free also uses a voluntary service model. This allows their advocates to individualize the way services are delivered and treats survivors as experts in their own lives. Kris noted that mandatory services may have unintended consequences for survivors, like reminding them of a controlling abuser. Additionally, the program’s staff appreciate the way survivors respond to voluntary services. “People are really forthright,” Kris quoted one of Home Free’s advocates as saying, “because we don’t set up situations where they have to lie to us or lose access to services by asking for help around stigmatized issues.”

24th October
written by Anna Blasco

Community planners now have a great new tool to evaluate changes to their communities’ homelessness assistance system. With the newly released Performance Improvement Calculator, developed by Focus Strategies, you can use your community’s HMIS and budget data to see the impact a proposed change has on the rate of permanent housing exits and average costs.

It is easy to experiment with the Calculator because it comes preloaded with sample data, although you’ll get the best results if you complete the Calculator with your own communities’ data. I wanted to see, for example, what the impact would be if I reduced the average length of time adults and families stay in transitional housing programs by 30 days. I reduced the length of stay, and then checked the summary tab to see what the effect would be. The charts on the left of this post show my result – I’ve increased my permanent housing exits by three percent and cut the average cost per permanent housing exit by six percent.

Other things you can experiment with, either independently or all together, include:

  • Changing the average permanent housing placement rates for different kinds of programs (typically shelter, transitional housing, rapid re-housing, and permanent supportive housing),
  • Changing the rate at which people return to the homeless system after being housed,
  • Moving funding from one type of intervention to another, and
  • As I did above, changing the average length of program stays.

If your community has independently completed the Homeless System Evaluator Tool, or has completed one as part of a Performance Improvement Clinic, you can use this data to complete the Calculator.

10th October
written by Kay Moshier McDivitt

The HEARTH Act has kept our homeless assistance community abuzz for some time now.  One of the things that we have heard a lot of “buzzing” about is the role that transitional housing programs will play in local Continuums of Care (CoCs).

While we know that transitional housing is an eligible activity with the recent release of the interim CoC rules, we also know that many programs and communities are exploring how to best use transitional housing resources to retool their homeless system to meet the HEARTH Act’s key performance measures.

Last week, we held a webinar about retooling transitional housing.  We know that many organizations are in very different stages of retooling. Some of you are just beginning to think about retooling and are looking for additional information; some of you are ready to do something, but are not sure where to start; and a number of you have already started the process and are looking for additional direction and assistance in the details.  During the webinar, we talked about reasons for retooling, options to consider with a focus on rapid re-housing models, and the process that organizations ready to take the plunge into retooling can use.

We hope the recorded version of the webinar will help everyone, no matter where you are in the process of retooling. We will continue to provide resources on retooling transitional housing over the next several months. It takes a time and energy to begin the retooling process, and regardless of where you are in the retooling process it is important to take the time to regularly assess and evaluate your program, measuring your effectiveness in ending homelessness in your community.

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3rd October
written by Kay Moshier McDivitt

At our conference this summer, I had the privilege of moderating a session on “Retooling Your Transitional Housing.” One of our speakers for the session was Vera Beech, Executive Director of Community Rebuilders in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The title of her presentation was “Families in Transition – a Successful Precedent for the Re-Design of Transitional Housing Programs.”

Vera shared with the participants the journey that Community Rebuilders took in 2007 to retool their scattered site traditional transitional housing program into a rapid re-housing approach. The program shift involved amending a HUD Supportive Housing Program-Transitional Housing (SHP-TH) grant, reallocating a $300,000 supportive service line item to the leasing budget. As a result of the shift, the renamed “Transitional Assistance” program is serving more households than before and achieving better housing outcomes, including reduced length of program stay and increased cost-effectiveness.

The retooled Transitional Assistance model is scattered site and uses private market rentals with the lease in the consumer’s name. The program uses a rapid re-housing approach with the length of program assistance, including rental assistance, averaging eight months. Significant changes included adopting a consumer centered and strength based approach, making service participation voluntary, emphasizing consumer housing choice, and all leases being in the consumer’s name where consumers can stay after program involvement ends. These changes increased stability for families and encouraged connections to their community.

Two key focuses that steered the retooling journey for Community Rebuilders included “readying the resources” and “keeping your eyes on your priorities.”  Vera shared that the retooling process took time, but by focusing on the resources at hand and the organization’s priorities, the retooled program resulted in an increased effectiveness in meeting the needs of the families experiencing homelessness in the Grand Rapids Community.

You can see Vera’s PowerPoint presentation from our conference here.

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