Here’s How Communities Can House More Homeless Families

Today when a family facing a housing crisis seeks shelter in Los Angeles or Mercer County, NJ, they will encounter a very different homeless service system than they would have just a few short years ago. That’s because both communities have radically transformed their homeless service systems to increase their capacity to help families.

In the past, families in L.A. would call programs all over the county to find a vacancy. Due to the county’s size, they might find a program 25 or even 50 miles from their previous residence. Too often, they would be forced to turn to an adult shelter program or a facility in Skid Row that was poorly equipped to support families with children. Today, the city has Family Solutions Centers strategically located through the county to assesses families’ housing needs and refer them to the most appropriate shelter or housing intervention in their own community.

Before Mercer County transformed their system, families spent on average 337 days in shelter or transitional housing programs, and they often didn’t receive help to reconnect to permanent housing. Now families spend an average of 54 days in emergency shelter before they move into housing of their own with rapid re-housing assistance. The cost of serving each household is approximately 50 percent lower and family outcomes are better.

How did these communities do it?

Both communities ramped up their capacity to provide rapid re-housing to families and established coordinated entry to their homeless service systems. By coordinating the intake and assessment of families across their systems’ entry points, and directing families to programs according a system-wide understanding of each program’s requirements, target population, and available beds and services, they improved their system’s capacity to match families to the most appropriate housing intervention.

Last week the Alliance hosted a webinar “Webinar: Rapid Re-Housing Spotlight Communities: Mercer, NJ and Los Angeles,” in which homeless service leaders from these communities shared the specific steps their communities took to transform their family homelessness service system. While the two communities differ greatly in size, the key steps were remarkably similar:

  • Build Political Support and Buy-In. In both communities, political leaders, funders, and homeless service providers were convinced by advocates and data that a new approach was needed.
  • Draft a Common Vision. In Los Angeles and Mercer County, key stakeholders came together to form a consensus around what a well-functioning family homeless service system should look like and the role that rapid re-housing should play.
  • Align Resources Toward a Common Goal. In both communities, resources were realigned to support rapid re-housing and to make sure efforts to end homelessness in the community were complimentary – all moving toward a common goal.
  • Create a Coordinated Entry/System of Care. Both communities established a coordinated entry system that established pathways to the best available intervention for families.