Virginia Reduced Family Homelessness by 25 Percent in Four Years. Here’s How They Did It

A few years ago, the Commonwealth of Virginia decided to make a major change in the way their homelessness funding and strategies worked.

In Virginia, like many communities, state funds were invested heavily in emergency shelter operations. Based on the success with rapid re-housing that Virginia experienced when implementing the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), they decided to adopt rapid re-housing as the commonwealth's primary intervention for homeless families.

The results were striking. From 2010 to 2014 Virginia reduced the number of families experiencing homelessness by 25 percent. In 2014, Virginia had the highest proportion of homelessness beds for rapid re-housing (17.3 percent) than any other state.

How did they do it? We released a paper yesterday that discusses Virginia’s progress and the major activities that community leaders and homeless service providers undertook during the shift and the lessons they learned. The paper can serve as a roadmap for other states or communities.

Here’s a quick rundown of what community leaders and stakeholders (including the Alliance) in Virginia did to achieve the commonwealth’s historic 25 percent reduction in family homelessness.

1. They encouraged buy-in and commitment from influential leadership.

To accomplish such a major realignment of your state’s (or commonwealth’s) homelessness strategy and the investment of state and federal funds in the implementation of the strategy, getting buy-in from influential leadership – in this case, the Governor – is essential.

2. They created financial incentives for shifting to rapid re-housing.

With the governor’s support, the commonwealth quadrupled their investment in rapid re-housing, but it was pragmatic in its approach to encouraging communities and providers to adopt the intervention. It provided small, flexible foundation grants that allowed providers to test and experiment with rapid re-housing.

3. They defined and rewarded high performance.

What does a high-quality rapid re-housing program look like? Virginia worked with the Alliance to develop a rapid re-housing certification to answer that question, and encouraged providers to improve their performance. Communities with providers certified in rapid re-housing received bonus points on their state funding applications.

4. They communicated early and often.

To make a successful shift to rapid re-housing, Virginia leaders had to persuade a critical mass of stakeholders in the commonwealth’s homelessness system that rapid re-housing works for homeless families. So they held community-input events across the commonwealth to announce the shift to rapid re-housing and address providers' concerns.

5. They built provider capacity to deliver rapid re-housing.

The Alliance worked with the commonwealth to hold Rapid re-housing workshops, Learning Collaboratives, and System Design Clinics across the state to support the commonwealth’s shift to rapid re-housing. This variety of training and learning opportunities increased understanding of rapid re-housing and buy-in for the model.

6. They helped communities analyze their resource investments.

If community leaders aren’t clear on exactly how their funding is being invested, spending it wisely can be a challenge. To help communities understand and analyze where their resources were being spent, the Alliance developed a Continuum of Care Spending Plan that the commonwealth then required every Continuum of Care in Virginia to complete.