Why I’m “one of those rapid-rehousing people”

This is the third in our Rapid Re-Housing Know-How Series.

I was chatting as I took my plate to a table at a meeting of 60 non-profit directors from around the country. A new friend from Boston and I sat down at a table and introduced ourselves. A woman at our table introduced herself and shared that she ran a transitional housing program in a state north of Virginia.

“I’m Kelly," I responded. "I work in homelessness in Richmond, Virginia.”

She leaned across the table, pointing her finger at me, and asked me if I was “one of those rapid re-housing people.”

"You rapid re-housing people” thought rapid re-housing was the answer to everything, she said.

She said we were making people do it, even though the people she served needed the services offered by her program.

“Well," I fumbled. I had no ready response for such an accusation.

How rapid re-housing works for our community

I advocate for rapid re-housing as a part of my community’s response to homelessness. I would like to share some of what has helped us reduce homelessness by more than a third since its peak in my hometown. As the Executive Director of Homeward, my role is to support system level change for the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care. At Homeward, we do this in three ways:

  • Data collection and analysis
  • Coalition management
  • Capacity-building.

First, we ask questions and calculate rates of change on program and system-level outcomes. We talk with our neighbors experiencing homelessness and the public and private service providers working with our neighbors to collect demographic and service usage data. We started taking rapid re-housing seriously in Richmond when the number of children living in homeless shelters spiked by 10% during the economic crisis in 2008. We knew that children do better in stable housing.

Second, we convene more than 15 committees and work groups to understand and address what we learn from these conversations and the resulting data analysis. Our committees bring together the folks in Richmond working to solve a particular problem whether it’s connecting veterans to federal and state resources that can end their homelessness or streamlining our landlord engagement efforts. This robust peer-based network solidifies emerging practices into best practices. Case managers challenge each other to do their best work and support each other in facing what seem to be overwhelming daily challenges in serving our most vulnerable neighbors.

Finally, at Homeward, we facilitate a learning community through trainings, peer exchanges, and capacity-building. This June, we will be hosting our tenth annual best practices to end homelessness conference. More than 200 public and private practitioners will gather to hear presentations from other communities that are making progress on something we struggle with or that are addressing homelessness in an innovative way. We come together to celebrate our past successes and commiserate on our failures. We leave inspired to continue to work on our shared goal of ending homelessness.

So, to my colleagues in other communities facing challenges of making people do things, take heart. Start with data. What is happening with your neighbors? What’s working and what doesn’t seem to be working? Check in with your direct service partners. What would help them do their best work? Facilitate learning among your peer networks of case managers, program directors, and funders. How can you continue to learn together?

I have finally thought of the best response to my dinner companion.

Yes, I am one of those rapid re-housing people. And darlin’, you should be one, too.