Improving Homeless Response Systems Through Diversion and Problem-Solving

Diversion is the intervention that has the greatest impact on the community level for those experiencing homelessness. It helps people avoid entering shelter and/or the homeless response system by resolving their immediate housing crisis through creative housing-focused problem-solving, connection to natural supports and/or community resources, and financial assistance (not a requirement but impactful). Most importantly, it is not a denial or barrier to shelter or homeless system entry. Diversion happens at the front door of the homelessness system, but housing-focused problem-solving – which is a crucial part of diversion – can happen upstream and throughout the system.

Through training and conversations with multiple communities, Alliance staff members have shared some key takeaways for how to improve diversion and housing-focused problem-solving system wide. Here are the most important things to remember, whether you’re a front line provider or system leadership:

  1. Diversion is not a program. Diversion is a strategy that should be implemented throughout the system at all coordinated entry access points, including street outreach. Communities must ensure diversion is not limited to a program or role. This understanding will ensure diversion approaches are not siloed into one program’s intervention but permeate throughout the system.
  1. It’s a conversation, not a tool. Diversion is bigger than a yes or no, checking-the-box type of tool. Diversion calls for an individualized, person-centered, and client-led conversation about resolving an immediate housing crisis. These conversations cannot be time limited and must be intentional depending on where they occur. For example, a meaningful diversion conversation can’t happen in short fifteen-minute windows, or against programmatic time crunch.
  1. Diversion involves continuous and system wide training. Diversion is a skill that needs to be honed, so training needs to be ongoing. All professionals across the homeless service system should be trained in diversion and understand where and when these conversations take place. This will allow providers in the system to build on the initial diversion conversation to work towards a rapid exit and ensure consistency, no matter the program. Diversion practices must also be conducted with cultural humility and racial equity. This will ensure culturally responsive interventions are provided free of biases.
  1. Allowing for streamlined cross system communication will assist with ensuring that diversion takes place across a whole system and makes it easier for cross program conversations to continue.
  1. Start with the minimum intervention. Using a progressive engagement framework will help focus on meeting the needs of the individual using the least amount of assistance possible. This will help reserve resources when absolutely needed and empower individuals to explore and utilize natural and/or community resources to resolve their housing crisis. Providers can always ramp up services when needed; it’s a lot harder to ramp them down.
  1. Identify upstream partners. Identify who in your community works with the same populations present in your homeless system. Ensure these partners understand the homeless system and the role it plays. Include them in diversion training so that they can utilize housing-focused problem-solving conversations when individuals experience a housing crisis in a different system upstream. This will ensure partners in the community explore all possibilities of resolving a household’s housing crisis prior to accessing the system.

Key points for providers to remember include:

  • Diversion is adaptable and flexible. Each conversation is chance to resolve someone’s housing crisis.
  • When having a housing-focused problem-solving conversation, there should not be a predetermined outcome. The topics of the conversation could change, but not the tools used to reach the goal of housing stability.
  • To maximize community-wide effectiveness, ensure upstream and downstream partners are utilizing diversion strategies. This approach can occur throughout the community prior to a household accessing the homeless system, and can occur after in settings like emergency shelter, Rapid Re-Housing, transitional housing, safe havens, and permanent supportive housing.
  • Finally, the goal of diversion is to stabilize someone’s housing crisis that day. The outcome of the conversation can include finding a housing option for temporary or permanent residence; both are considered successes.