Here’s What Houston and San Francisco Can Teach Us About Ending Family Homelessness

Just yesterday the mayor of Houston Annise Parker announced that her city had ended veteran homelessness. The announcement is getting a fair bit of attention in the press and online (and deservedly so), but here’s one thing those stories aren’t telling you.

Over the last two years, Houston has also reduced the number of families experiencing homelessness on a given night by 39 percent. Houston leaders attribute this progress to their investment in rapid re-housing. If they’re right, the city has more dramatic declines in its future, because they recently tripled their rapid re-housing capacity.

Houston isn’t alone. In San Francisco, the Hamilton Family Center has re-housed more families in the first quarter of 2015 than they had re-housed in all of 2014. This reduced the time families in crisis have to wait to get into emergency shelter.

By helping families exit homeless service programs more rapidly, they freed up space for families who are in dire need of shelter, which has resulted in a 52 percent drop in the number of families on a waitlist for family shelter in San Francisco.

Recently the Alliance hosted a webinar on these communities: Ramping Up Rapid Re-housing: Houston/Harris County and San Francisco.

During the webinar, speakers Eva Thibaudeau (Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County), Preheim (Houston Housing Authority), and Jeff Kositksy (Hamilton Family Center in San Francisco ) shared some lessons about expanding rapid re-housing capacity.

You can watch a video recording of the entire webinar embedded above, but here’s a little taste of what we learned:

Expand Rapid Re-Housing Resources Using Existing Resources

If you’re going to expand your community’s rapid re-housing capacity, you’re going to have to determine where the funding is going to come from. A good question to ask yourself is whether there is money currently devoted to solving homelessness in your community that can be better spent elsewhere.

In Houston, for example, they decided to replace some permanent housing subsidies funded out of homeless assistance program with housing subsidies funded through other federal funds. Doing that freed up homeless assistance resources that they could then invest in rapid re-housing.

In San Francisco, the Hamilton Family Center attracted new funding from partners, including the San Francisco Department of Social Services, which has dedicated state funds under the California Housing Support Program to reconnect families to housing.

Diversify Tasks According to Staff and Program Strengths

Both Houston/Harris County and the Hamilton Family Center allocated the tasks associated with operating a successful rapid re-housing program to the staff or partner agencies best equipped to deliver those services.

In Houston/Harris County, the public housing agency took ownership of managing rent assistance – something they have a lengthy history of providing, allowing those providing case management could focus on delivering case management services.

An assessment of Hamilton Family Center’s program led that organization to change how they engaged in housing search, creating a specialized real estate team that could focus on housing search and landlord engagement and allowing the case managers to focus on meeting families’ needs.

Houston/Harris County and Hamilton Family Center serve as convincing examples of the kind of progress communities achieve when they ramp up their rapid re-housing efforts.

Here at the Alliance, we are documenting the lessons learned from these communities. If your community is implementing rapid re-housing in an innovative way or you know of another community that is, please let us know. You can email me at

Want to know more? In addition to the webinar recording above, you can find recordings of a series of rapid re-housing webinars on this rapid re-housing webinars page.