What makes a housing program good? What is the difference between good housing programs and great housing programs? Which types of housing approaches work best for which populations? Throughout my career I have been investigating these questions, putting them in practice and sharing with others what I have learned – and can prove. I am an evidence-informed practitioner with a penchant for being a skeptical empiricist and I do not embrace hunches and anecdotes. I have come to understand that there are 10 essential elements for a successful rapid re-housing or Housing First program
I love seeing the profound change in people when they make the transition from being homeless to having sustainable housing and life stability. For the past couple of years I have been working with communities around the world to help them establish, evaluate, and tweak their housing programs to achieve better long-term success, use their resources effectively, and never lose sight of their mission (which is to end homelessness, in case you are wondering). Prior to that I spent five years starting and growing a highly successful and very large housing program – and we evaluated and researched what we were doing, learning why certain practices seemed to work and others did not. (I should also point out that I am a nerd to the nth degree and hold a faculty position in the Graduate Planning Programme at York University.) Without further adieu, here are the first 5 of the 10 essential elements for a successful rapid re-housing or Housing First program.
1. Know the population you aim to serve
Housing programs should never attempt to be all things to all people. From explaining your program’s intent to prospective clients, to hiring the best people to provide housing access and support services, it is necessary for you to know who you are intending to serve and why. It is important to make the right program available to the right person at the right time if you want to see your homeless service system optimized (which you can read more about here). Some advice:
- Do NOT have a first come, first served approach to housing services.
- Have a centralized intake process or standardized process across your community (great examples can be found in Columbus and Dayton, Ohio).
- Measure acuity of presenting issues (the Vulnerability Assessment Tool, Vulnerability Index and Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool are all good options) and facilitate access to the right housing program to meet their needs.
- Remember that homelessness for most people is a once-in-a-lifetime event for a very short period of time. Most of those folks will end their own homelessness and aren’t going to need intensive services from your organization. Do not do anything that will prolong their homelessness (for example, employment programs that require people to be homeless in order to participate).
- Rapid re-housing is a specific type of housing intervention. It isn’t just about getting people into housing quickly. It is about supporting individuals or families with a few complex issues in accessing housing and providing the supports necessary for them to integrate into the community and, ultimately, no longer need your supports.
- Housing First is also a specific type of housing intervention. While it is housing first, it is not housing only. This type of housing intervention is for persons who have experienced chronic homelessness and have multiple complex issues. Both Intensive Case Management and Assertive Community Treatment approaches have proven to be effective in support delivery, and require fidelity to the intervention to be successful longer term.
2. Have the right service orientation
The key to having the right service orientation is to meet people where they are at – rather than expecting our clients to conform to our programs. To truly be client-centered we need to check, double-check, and even triple check that we aren’t system-centered or client-directed. If you want to make sure you have the right service orientation:
- Allow clients to make choices – from the type of housing they move into, to the type, frequency, duration and intensity of services;
- Provide supports in vivo – in the client’s natural settings and their home rather than expecting them to come to an office or trying to deliver supports through text messages, phone calls, or email;
- Ensure the service plan is individualized as opposed to “cookie cutter”;
- Remember to avoid coercion and judgment;
- De-link the housing support functions from the tenancy (if they lose their housing they don’t lose their supports);
- Appreciate that neither sobriety nor treatment participation nor medication compliance are preconditions for housing success;
- Exercise harm reduction;
- Help people integrate into their community;
- Teach, model, and support people instead of creating unrealistic expectations or being punitive;
- Appreciate your role is to support housing stability, not to “fix” people;
- Remember that your goal is to be professional, not charitable.
3. There are five sequential and essential components
Delivering your housing program in the right order with the right focus of attention is critically important. The order for maximum success is as follows:
1. Focus on Housing Before Anything Else
2. Create an Individualized Service Plan – After the Person has been Housed
3. Increase Self Awareness
4. Support Achievements in Self Management
5. Allow the Client to Reframe/Rebuild One’s Life and Future
4. Structure and staff the housing team properly
Successful housing programs have comparable team structures and roles:
Team Leader – supervise housing case managers and is dedicated to ensuring fidelity to the program, measuring output and outcomes, and coaching for success
Housing Case Managers – can support clients in various phases of housing stability, and use proactive, objective-based discussions with clients to facilitate change and better housing and life stability.
Housing Locator – specializes in working with landlords and gaining access to housing stock. The best ones understand how rental markets and the business of being a landlord works.
5. Work well with landlords & understand their business
If you are working with landlords in the private market, you first need to appreciate that renting housing is a business. Engage with landlords from a business perspective and demonstrate how your approach can help them make more money. If you go into the discussion looking for landlords with big hearts you may find a few, but you likely won’t get as many units long term or be as successful than if you go into it from a business perspective.
Stay tuned for Part Two of the 10 Essential Elements of Successful Housing First and Rapid Re-Housing programs, which looks at items 6-10 in the list.
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 www.orgcode.com or @orgcode or www.facebook.com/orgcode