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31st January
written by naehblog

This is the second of a two-part series guest written by Iain De Jong. The first part can be found here.

Iain DeJong

This is second half of a two-part blog series on the essential elements of successful Housing First and rapid re-housing programs. In Part One of this two-part blog, I examined the populations to be served, the service orientation, how to work with landlords, the structure of the housing team, and the sequential and essential components of successful housing programs. I conclude with a look at data, home visits, professionalizing the work, support phases, and the things you can anticipate going wrong in the delivery of your housing program.

Without further adieu, essential elements 6 through 10:

6. Use data to drive program improvements

Yes “data” is a four letter word, but that doesn’t make it obscene. It is necessary for performance measurement, which is key to ending homelessness. To make data effective:

  • Collect only the information necessary to make informed suggestions on how best to meet the client’s housing needs at the initial intake and assessment. You don’t need every detail about the person’s life. Other salient details will be collected during the delivery of support services.
  • Ask yourself “so what?” This requires looking at your data to see what measurable difference your program is really making. Focus on quality of service, not quantity of people served.
  • Ask everyone involved in delivering the housing program what data they feel is necessary to collect and analyze.
  • Remember that your HMIS is a tool to help you with data, but it is not your performance management system.
  • Use the data you collect in  many different places: website, newsletters, staff meetings, client reception, hiring practices, etc. to make it worth the time and effort to collect and to make transparent and defensible program improvements based upon data.
  • Set aside time in the day for frontline staff to input their data; don’t reinforce the idea that data collection and entry is something that happens when the “real work” is done.
  • Have a meaningful data analysis plan set up in advance.
  • Guide the work through a coherent logic model, where everyone within the organization understands inputs, activities, outputs, and outcomes.
  • Set meaningful goals to gauge progress towards the mission. Targets should not be an aspiration – they should be operationally possible.
  • Increase knowledge about the importance of data within your organization. (Click any of these to read more about data and performance measurement 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

7. Use objective-based home visits to facilitate change and improve community integration

The service plan is centered on the individual and customized to their needs. It is their plan, not the support workers.

However, it remains the job of the case manager to help facilitate greater housing and life stability. The key is to have three pre-determined objectives for each interaction with clients that are focused on existing goals within the individualized service plan (aka case plan) and the projected outcomes of the service plan. These are established during a weekly case review where there is a briefing on the progress being achieved with each consumer of your housing program. These pre-determined objectives for each home visit will continue to drive the interaction towards positive change.

Emphasis should be placed on objectives that help create opportunities for the clients to engage in meaningful daily activities. This decreases social isolation. It also creates an environment where they can better integrate into the broader community (not just with other economically poor or formerly homeless folks) and experience greater fulfillment emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, socially, recreationally, etc.

8. Plan for success through support phases

Once people exit homelessness into housing – regardless of whether it is a rapid re-housing or Housing First intervention – we must appreciate the progression of the client in working towards greater housing and life stability. For many, from a psychological perspective, they have adapted to their state of homelessness such that it has become “normal” and while having housing is seen as desirable by the individual, the experience of being housed is, in fact, “abnormal” after years of homelessness, institutional living, incarceration, etc.

In the Formative Phase, it is reasonable to expect greater unpredictability from the client, a range of emotions, an eagerness to be successful matched with a range of questions and adaptations to having a place. How the client is supported in this phase sets the expectations for the other phases.

In the Normative Phase, we see greater progression in articulating and achieving goals in the individualized service plan, greater awareness and adaptation to the community at large, increased participation in activities outside of the home, and increased social awareness. Supporting the client in this phase is contingent upon a range of case management skill sets, and a strong focus on brokering and advocating for access to additional resources to meet needs and increase community integration.

In the Integrative Phase, the client is able to demonstrate considerably increased independence. Some clients will always need some degree of support. However, as clients get to this stage, they have demonstrated mastery of a range of skills and activities that are fully within their life domain and do not require support or intervention on the part of the case manager. Supporting the client in this phase is positively reinforcing all that has been achieved; in some instances, even exit planning after community integration has proven to be successful.

9. It is professional work

Success isn’t an accident with housing programs. Professionally-trained staff yields professional results and better outcomes. It is critical that organizations value training, create a training agenda, create time for staff to develop professionally, and employ trainers who share the values of the organization and its vision to end homelessness.

We also need to pay staff who deliver successful housing programs professional wages. How we remunerate people says quite a bit about how much we value their expertise and the outcomes they are able to achieve in working effectively with people.

10. Things will go wrong…it’s how you respond that matters

I have never seen or created a perfect housing program. I have seen some amazing ones and I share promising practices whenever I have the chance. But the truth is there will be some things that just go wrong despite our best efforts. I think it is more important to measure our response to these issues than assume that the absence of them occurring is success. These are some of the most frequent things that go wrong that I think we need to pay close attention to:

  • Guests/partying – consider encouraging the client to create their own guest policy and put it within the context of how they see themselves being a responsible tenant.
  • Payment of rent on time and in full – whenever possible, encourage the client to have third party payment of rent so that rent isn’t even a consideration in the budgeting process, much like how many people pay their mortgages through automatic withdrawal.
  • Maintaining professional boundaries – as part of training and re-training, ensure that staff know the limits of their involvement with clients.
  • Pests – have clients keep an eye out for pests – which are common in multi-unit residential living – and teach them how to inform the landlord when pests are detected.
  • Pets – help clients understand lease requirements or local laws related to the number of pets permitted and requirements for care.
  • Hoarding – home visits allow for early detection when collecting or hoarding is beginning prior to it increasing to an exceptional size.
  • Interpersonal conflict – the client has to understand the role of the support worker, and the support worker has to be prepared to help resolve conflicts.
  • Damages – home visits are again the key to early detection of damages, and clients can learn to take responsibility for damages.

Those, in a nutshell, are the 10 essential elements of successful housing programs. Based upon years of practice, research and evaluation, attention to these 10 essential elements will improve the long-term outcomes of your Housing First or rapid re-housing program. Obviously there are other considerations in delivering a housing program, but starting with these 10 and doing them as well as possible will most definitely improve your practice.

Iain De Jong is the President & CEO of OrgCode Consulting, Inc. He has been working with many communities to help them improve their housing programs in advance of HEARTH. He is a frequent and popular speaker at Alliance Conferences. You can see him at the Conference in February in Los Angeles. Iain is also the chief blogger, tweeter and FaceBook persona for OrgCode. Take a look at or @orgcode or

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