Making the Shift from ‘Cookie-Cutter’ Rapid Re-Housing to a Program that Houses as Many People as Possible

Scott Yard is the Director of Emergency & Prevention Programs for the Human Services department of Carroll County, Maryland. In this role, Scott directs the county’s rapid re-housing program.

Scott recently attended the Alliance’s Rapid Re-Housing (RRH) Learning Collaborative in Maryland where he is working with colleagues to improve the state’s RRH efforts. He reflected on his experience in an interview with the Alliance.

The Alliance: How has the philosophy of your RRH program changed recently?

Scott Yard: We used to offer a very packaged-type program. It was the same for everybody: “Come on in and you’re going to get “x” months of subsidy.” When we do that, it limits how creative we can get with funds and how many people we can assist.

After doing the Collaborative, we learned that it doesn’t have to be a cookie-cutter program, and one size doesn’t need to fit all. Someone might only need one month of assistance. Someone might need three. Removing the “square peg, square hole” philosophy of services allows us to really look at each individual household, each individual need, in a totally different way—and try to figure out how we can maximize our dollars.

We’re working on changing the philosophy to be completely responsive to exactly what the needs of the individual are.

Did you have any “aha moments” at the Learning Collaborative?

It was something that Kay (Alliance Senior Technical Assistance Specialist) said: “People will move as fast as you let them.”

Rather than saying, “Hey you’ve got six months to get your game together and meet all your goals,” why not push them to meet their goals as fast as possible? Kay made a really good point that RRH is not a poverty-fighting program — it’s a “get people off the street” program. We weren’t focusing on getting people off the streets as fast as possible, or getting as many people off the street. Kay’s thinking was to get them off the streets and help them be successful as soon as possible. Don’t create this box where you’re saying “OK, you’ve got ‘x’ months to work on it.” Because an individual may say “I’ve got some time.” Then, not only are you holding them back, but you’re also minimizing your resources to assist other people.

I think the other thing is committing to getting as many people into services as possible—off the streets. Not just fulfilling your grant amounts. In order to have a greater impact, you have to think outside the box and not lock yourself in. We know we need to get more creative.

What do you know now that you wish your peers understood?

The biggest thing I’ve learned recently is that most rules or most guidelines that agencies follow—they put on themselves. Before I participated in state collaborations like this, we were doing a lot of things just because that’s how it was always done and then it becomes “law.” But the reality is the states and different organizations we’re working with are telling us, “Hey you guys, be creative!” I think sometimes agencies handcuff themselves because they assume that the way they do something is how they were told to do it.

What goals did you set coming out of the Learning Collaborative?

Our big goal was to get people housed as fast as possible. We don’t need to sit and wait to use our funds. The real part of the goal is to stop people from being homeless.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The Alliance’s Maryland Rapid Re-Housing Learning Collaborative is facilitated in partnership with and funded by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.