From 2010 to 2014 Virginia reduced the number of families experiencing homelessness by 25 percent. One important factor in this success was that Virginia shifted from a shelter and transitional housing-based system to one based much more on the use of a rapid re-housing approach. This paper outlines the major activities and lessons learned from this project. An excerpt is below. The full paper can be downloaded below.
Adopting Rapid Re-Housing Statewide: The Commonwealth of Virginia
From 2010 to 2014 the Commonwealth of Virginia reduced the number of families experiencing homelessness by 25 percent – from 1,181 family households in 2010 to 877 in 2014. One important factor in this success was that Virginia shifted from a shelter and transitional housing-based system to one based much more on the use of a rapid re-housing approach. In 2014, Virginia had the highest proportion (17.3 percent) of homelessness beds for rapid re-housing.
Rapid re-housing is an intervention designed to help individuals and families to quickly exit homelessness and return to permanent housing. Rapid re-housing assistance is offered without preconditions (such as employment, income, absence of criminal record, or sobriety) and the resources and services provided are typically tailored to the unique needs of the household.
This paper discusses the three year process by which Virginia re-tooled its approach to family homelessness to one centered upon rapid re-housing, and the project and partnership that supported this effort.
In 2010, Virginia was still feeling the impact of the recession and the foreclosure crisis. To confront these issues, Governor Bob McDonnell signed Executive Order 10 calling for a housing policy framework which, among other things, would increase capacity to meet the needs of Virginians experiencing homelessness. The Governor’s senior economic advisor, Robert Sledd, was very committed to ending homelessness and was an active board member of Richmond’s homeless coordinating agency, Homeward. Mr. Sledd collaborated with Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources, William A. Hazel, Jr., M.D., to establish an Advisory Committee which was tasked with developing a statewide plan to address homelessness.
The Advisory Committee included stakeholders from state and local government, local homeless planning agencies, homeless services providers, and the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness. In November 2010, the Advisory Committee published a report establishing the ambitious goal of reducing homelessness in Virginia by 15 percent in 3 years and identified 5 specific strategies to accomplish that goal.
One of these strategies was rapid re-housing, and the Advisory Committee’s report called for increased flexibility of state funds to support it. State homelessness funding was heavily invested in emergency shelter operations and, based on its experience with the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) and rapid re-housing pilot projects, the Advisory Committee saw the potential to reduce homelessness through the rapid re-housing model. To support the shift, the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness approached the Freddie Mac Foundation to fund a project that would build capacity to deliver rapid re-housing assistance and, in recognizing the impact of a public-private collaborative approach, brought the Commonwealth of Virginia and the National Alliance to End Homelessness to the table as project partners.
Project and Partners
The Freddie Mac Foundation funded a three-year, $3 million dollar project to re-tool Virginia’s family homelessness system. Three partners were involved, each with a different set of responsibilities. The project partners worked together very closely, and held weekly conference calls to coordinate activities throughout the three-year project.
- The Commonwealth of Virginia was responsible for changes to state funding and coordination of state agencies through the Governor’s Coordinating Council on Homelessness. A dedicated State staff person was hired with Freddie Mac Foundation funding to support the Coordinating Council. Staff from the Department of Housing and Community Development was responsible for the shift in state funding to rapid re-housing.
- The Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness (VCEH) was responsible for working with local coordinating groups (Continuums of Care or CoCs) and private sector funders, and conducted advocacy work to increase awareness and funding for rapid re-housing in the state legislature.
- The National Alliance to End Homelessness (Alliance) was responsible for the training and technical assistance aspects of the project, including training nonprofits on rapid re-housing implementation, and data and systems changes initiatives. It also administered the Freddie Mac project.
Three-fourths of the resources went to these organizations. The final quarter was re-granted to CoCs and nonprofit service delivery organizations in Virginia.
Summary of Major Activities
Over three years, the project partners described above carried out a number of activities which are briefly described below. Some activities are described in further detail later in this paper.
Year One – Introduction of Rapid Re-Housing
During the first year, the partners focused on building the capacity of homeless service providers to deliver rapid re-housing. The Alliance launched a major training effort. The State expanded funding for rapid re-housing, from $350,000 for 4 service providers, to $1 million for 21 service providers.
- Opening Events (7) were held across the State to introduce the project and the increased focus on rapid re-housing to CoCs.
- Rapid re-housing workshops (11) were conducted by the Alliance throughout the state. 331 people from 172 organizations attended.
- Small grants (17) were awarded to homeless service providers to support the cost of shifting their approach to rapid re-housing.
- A Homeless Outcomes Coordinator was hired to staff the Governor’s Coordinating Council on Homelessness, the body responsible for directing the plan to reduce homelessness.
- DHCD added rapid re-housing and prevention as eligible activities for federal Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) funding and shifted $1 million of State Shelter Grant funding to rapid re-housing.
- VCEH built support among elected officials for the shift in resources from shelter to rapid re-housing as well as funding for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund (VHTF), which includes a 20 percent set aside for projects that reduced homelessness. More than $232,000 of the VHTF was allocated to rapid re-housing in the first year.
Year Two – Building Capacity
In Year Two the State created funding incentives for communities to implement rapid re-housing best practices. An in-depth technical assistance project helped providers adopt these practices. To encourage providers to re-house all families experiencing homelessness, even those with high housing barriers, VCEH developed a pilot project that would encourage providers to serve these families, and advocated for increased state resources for rapid re-housing. VCEH worked with five private funders to secure new funding for rapid re-housing.
- Rapid Re-Housing Learning Collaboratives (7) were held to help providers change their organizational policies and practices to align with best practices. Learning Collaboratives brought together providers for an intensive, year-long training and information exchange process that helped participants re-house more families more quickly.
- In order to encourage communities to use their homeless resources more strategically, Continuums of Care (CoCs) were required to submit a five year “Spending Plan”; The Spending Plan required CoCs to collect, many for the first time, budgets from all of the homelessness programs in their communities. This allowed Continuums to see resource investments more accurately, and encouraged them to develop a plan for better allocating resources in the future.
- A rapid re-housing certification was developed, and DHCD awarded extra points in its competitive funding application to communities with certified providers.
- DHCD rebranded the State Shelter Grant as the Homeless Solutions Grant (HSG). Out of the 69 service providers awarded HSG funding for that year, 62 received funding for rapid re-housing, representing 60 percent of total HSG funding.
- Based on a competitive process, five (5) sites were sub-granted $344,000 of project funds for pilot projects to serve families with moderate to high barriers to housing.
- Five (5) private funders and foundations committed a combined total of $116,500 in new funds to support rapid re-housing and technical assistance for programs moving to a rapid re-housing approach.
- VCEH drafted statewide performance measures and held training and input sessions to solicit feedback. The Governor’s Coordinating Council on Homelessness adopted the measures.
Year Three – Moving to Rapid Re-Housing Systems
The first two years of the project significantly built provider capacity and buy-in of the rapid re-housing model, and increased state investment in the strategy. In Year Three the project supported this shift by focusing on community-level planning and support for rapid re-housing. The State changed its funding process from single organization-based applications to CoC-based applications. The project partners facilitated community level training and planning clinics called System Design Clinics. VCEH convened homeless service providers to explore opportunities for employment partnerships linked to rapid re-housing, and hosted tours of rapid re-housing programs for state legislators. The pilot project to re-house families with high barriers ended, and 92 of the 99 families housed with pilot funds remained in stable housing at the completion of the pilot.
- System Design Clinics (7) helped communities shift the orientation of their homeless assistance systems from a shelter-focused model to a crisis response system that re-houses households quickly.
- Approximately $15.4 million in annual state and federal homelessness funding, including ESG and HSG, were combined to create the Virginia Homeless Solutions Program (VHSP). The application process was community-level, strengthening community planning efforts. It emphasized a community response to homelessness that included rapid re-housing as well as a safety net of emergency shelter. Performance outcomes included reduction in length of shelter stays and returns to homelessness.
- VCEH outlined four (4) promising initiatives linking rapid re-housing and employment in Virginia.
- VCEH coordinated tours of rapid re-housing programs (5) for state legislators to build support for the model.
- At the conclusion of the pilot project to re-house high barrier families, 92 percent of families remained in stable housing.