Today's guest blog post was contributed by Benjamin Cattell Noll, project coordinator at Friendship Place.
Rapid re-housing is not easy, but it is simple. And it's bringing us closer and closer to our goal of ending veteran homelessness by the end of this year. The Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grants to community organizations across the country have taken the rapid re-housing intervention to a scale previously unseen, and the impact on veteran homelessness has been astonishing.
It isn’t easy. People experiencing homelessness often face numerous barriers to getting into and retaining stable, permanent housing. Data from Fiscal Year 2013 shows that more than half of the veterans receiving SSVF services had a disabling condition; 44 percent had a substance use disorder; and nearly a third had no income at the time of program entry. Yet 84 percent of participants exited the program to permanent housing with a median length of 90 days of services.
How has SSVF managed to achieve such dramatic outcomes? Simple: through implementation of just three core components of rapid re-housing.
1. Find Housing
Housing location is an essential but frequently overlooked component of any rapid re-housing program. Many people assume that homelessness is a purely economic problem. It isn’t. Plenty of veterans who experience homelessness have enough income to afford rent; they just can’t locate available and affordable units. Previous evictions, lack of recent housing history, a criminal record, or poor credit can also make it extremely difficult for them to find housing.
Rapid re-housing providers help their clients overcome these kinds of barriers to housing as quickly as possible. One crucial way they accomplish this is by establishing relationships with landlords in the community and building these landlords' knowledge and trust for the program and the supportive services it provides. Successful providers also know where to look outside of the usual channels to find housing for their clients through private landlords who may have more lenient screening criteria.
2. Pay for Housing
OK…so homelessness isn’t solely an economic problem, but financial assistance is certainly essential in helping the vast majority of people make the transition from homelessness to housing. Security deposits, first month’s rent, utility fees and deposits, and moving costs can easily run into the multiple thousands of dollars, making it difficult for many people experiencing homelessness to save up enough money to move in.
SSVF has really taken this funding to scale. Nearly $1 billion in funds for services and direct financial assistance has been allocated towards the program since its inception. However, it doesn’t take a lot of financial assistance to get most people back on their feet. The average cost per household has hovered around $2,500.
Financial assistance is a critical tool in the rapid re-housing toolkit, but it cannot be the only one. By itself, financial support is usually not enough to get people out of homelessness and into permanent housing, but when integrated with the other two components it produces a synergistic effect that improves the overall effectiveness of the intervention.
3. Stay in Housing
Getting into housing is an important first step, but successful providers also help their clients stay in that housing. Early outcomes from studies of returns to homelessness following SSVF services are very encouraging.
Case management—connecting program clients to the necessary supports available in their communities—is the core service of SSVF. Rapid re-housing is a short-term intervention not designed to provide lifelong support. Long-term support must come from within the community, whether it's through formal supports like health care, disability benefits, or employment or through informal means like the social support of family, friends, or a faith community.
Case managers connect clients with these supports and help troubleshoot when problems arise. Building positive, trusting relationships with clients and following through on promises is essential to successful implementation of this component.
The daily challenges faced by people experiencing homelessness (and the organizations working alongside them) mean that effectively implementing these components is rarely easy. However, by focusing on these three core areas, providers can dramatically improve the effectiveness of the rapid re-housing services they provide to homeless veterans and their families.