Alameda County Social Services Agency and EveryOne Home
The innovative work of EveryOne Home and its partners is having a dramatic impact in reducing family homelessness. The most recent public Point-in-Time Count found that the number of people in families who were homeless declined by 26 percent between 2007 and 2013 and the number of people in unsheltered families declined 70 percent. This brief highlights the successful collaboration between EveryOne Home and Alameda County Social Services Agency to end family homelessness. This successful collaboration highlights how homeless service systems may craft partnerships with TANF and child welfare agencies in their communities.
EveryOne Home is the coordinating body for ending homelessness in Alameda County, CA. Since its inception, EveryOne Home has focused on building partnerships in order to develop an effective response to homelessness across the county. As a result of this work its roadmap to end homelessness has broad community support. One of its most successful partnerships is with the Alameda County Social Services Agency, whose mission is to promote the economic and social well-being of individuals, families, neighborhoods and communities. Alameda County Social Services is responsible for the administration of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in the County and the delivery of child welfare services.
This brief describes two innovative collaborations between EveryOne Home and Alameda County Social Services to end family homelessness. The first section describes a successful initiative that combined the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund and the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing (HPRP) program, both funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The second section describes a demonstration pilot that uses federal child welfare resources and the expertise of local homeless service organizations to meet the housing needs of child welfare-involved families. Finally, both sections conclude with key lessons learned in the collaborative initiatives.
Combining TANF and HUD ARRA Resources to Assist Homeless Families
The ARRA was intended to provide a temporary infusion of federal resources to help stimulate the economy during the recession and to help businesses, individuals, and families impacted by the poor economy. The ARRA included $1.5 billion for HPRP, dedicated resources for communities to meet the anticipated increased demand for homeless services by individuals and families due to the recession.
HPRP was not the only resource available under ARRA to help low-income families. The TANF Emergency Contingency Fund received $5 billion to help states assist low-income families. These funds reimbursed 80 percent of the increased TANF spending the state incurred to serve families due to the recession. Increased spending for short-term, non-recurrent benefits was among the reimbursable eligible uses of TANF Emergency Contingency Fund. The benefit could be used to provide up to four months of rental assistance to help prevent homelessness or re-house families. In June 2010, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued joint guidance outlining how TANF Emergency Contingency Fund short-term, non-recurrent benefits and HPRP resources could be used together to assist at-risk and homeless families.
EveryOne Home viewed the ARRA funding as an opportunity to accelerate the efforts to end family homelessness already underway in Alameda County. They expedited plans to establish Housing Resource Centers across the county so they would be prepared to administer HPRP when it became available. They also approached County leaders with a proposal: dedicate TANF Emergency Contingency Fund short-term, non-recurrent resources to homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing and allow the Housing Resource Centers to use both HPRP and TANF funds to serve eligible households.
The proposal was well-received, and Alameda County Social Services agreed to provide $1 million of TANF Emergency Contingency Funds to 7 Housing Resource Centers to be disbursed alongside the $7.5 million the Country received from HPRP to provide homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing assistance. Alameda County Social Services entered into separate contracts with each Housing Resource Center and provided training to staff on how to administer the TANF benefit. EveryOne Home modified the Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS) data elements to capture the information that the Alameda County Social Services Agency required for state reports on TANF spending as well as the data required by HUD on how HPRP funds were used.
The partnership was very successful. Many of the families who sought help for a housing crisis were eligible for help under the TANF short-term benefit. This allowed HPRP to be used for those ineligible for TANF, including single adults and some families. Using TANF and HPRP funds together allowed the County to serve more people facing a housing crisis.
There were additional benefits to blending TANF and HPRP resources. The TANF short-term benefit could be used more flexibly than HPRP. It allowed families to receive help with expenses that HPRP could not cover, such as those associated with moving to a new apartment, including purchasing furniture and household supplies. As a result, some families received a richer intervention than they would have with HPRP alone. The Housing Resource Center staff also became more knowledgeable about other TANF agency resources for low-income families, including income and work supports such as child care and transportation assistance. This allowed them to help their own clients become better informed about the array of resources they were eligible to receive from Alameda County Social Services.
Rapid re-housing proved to be more effective and efficient than more traditional responses to family homelessness. Among all populations assisted with rapid re-housing (including families and single adults), only 3 percent returned to shelter within a 12 month period. In contrast, 8 percent of people who exited transitional housing and 27 percent who exited emergency shelter returned to shelter within 12 months. The cost for each successful exit from homelessness with rapid re-housing was $2,800. In contrast, the average cost was $25,000 for each successful exit from transitional housing.
When funding for the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund and HPRP ended, out of necessity the County scaled back its investment in homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing. The County’s commitment to rapid re-housing did not wane, however. The model proved to provide better results for homeless families at a lower cost than alternative approaches such as emergency shelter alone or transitional housing. The success of this early partnership paved the road for the Family Reunification Pilot, a partnership crafted by Alameda County Social Services and EveryOne Home to address the housing needs of at-risk and homeless child welfare-involved families.
Using Child Welfare Resources More Flexibly to House, Preserve and Reunify Families
The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 created the Title IV-E program which funds states to cover the costs associated with placing an eligible child in foster care. Title IV-E is a primary funding source of child welfare services and provides a federal reimbursement for services provided to each eligible child placed into care. In recent years, HHS has also approved Title IV-E child welfare waiver demonstrations projects. The waiver demonstrations allow states to waive certain requirements under Title IV-E. Some waiver demonstrations allow jurisdictions to receive a capped but more flexible grant in advance rather than a reimbursement under Title IV-E for each child placed in foster care.
In 2006, California received a Title IV-E waiver from HHS allowing two counties, Alameda and Los Angeles, to receive the capped, flexible funding. California’s goals under the waiver are to:
- Improve the array of services for children and families and engage families through a more individualized approach that emphasizes family involvement;
- Increase child safety without an over-reliance on out-of-home care;
- Improve permanency outcomes and timelines; and
- Improve child and family well-being.
Under the waiver agreement, any savings incurred through the demonstration had to be invested in child welfare services. In 2012, the last year of the five-year Alameda demonstration (later extended through July 2014), Alameda County Social Services had unspent savings to reinvest in child welfare services.
EveryOne Home met with Alameda County Social Services leaders to discuss how these waiver savings could be used to address the housing needs of at-risk and homeless families and youth. Nationally, many of the families who interact with child welfare agencies are very poor and struggle with housing issues. It can be difficult for child welfare agencies to provide effective services to keep a family together if they are living in unsafe or unstable places. Lack of a safe and appropriate housing situation can also delay reunification of children with their parents.
EveryOne Home provided Alameda County Social Services officials with research and data that demonstrated the intersection of child welfare involvement and family homelessness. They argued that stable housing could enhance child welfare interventions designed to preserve families and reunify children in foster care with their parents, and thus meet the goals of the California waiver. They proposed developing a partnership between the child welfare agency workers and the Housing Resource Centers in which the latter would provide housing services to at-risk and homeless child welfare-involved families. The housing services would not compete with or duplicate the services that the child welfare agency provided to preserve and reunify families; rather, they would augment them.
Alameda County Social Services leaders did have concerns about the proposal. First, they wanted to ensure that services funded under the Title IV-E waiver were delivered to families served by the child welfare agency who were at risk of family separation or who were receiving support to reunify. The funding could not be used to serve the larger population of families experiencing or at-risk of homelessness. Second, there was a concern that the families the child welfare agency serves would have far greater challenges, including housing barriers, than the families the Housing Resource Centers would serve with TANF and HPRP funds. There was a fear that the modest financial and case management resources that had been sufficient to re-house many homeless families would not solve the housing needs of child welfare-involved families.
Ultimately, Alameda County Social Services decided to provide funding for a Family Reunification Housing Pilot, now in operation. With an investment of $850,000, the pilot primarily targets two sets of child welfare-involved families with housing crises: families working with the child welfare agency to reunify with a child placed in out-of-home care, and families receiving supportive services from the child welfare agency following reunification of a child (termed “maintenance”). The intent of the pilot is to:
- Help homeless parents obtain housing so children can be returned to their custody;
- Help parents not suitably housed to relocate to safe, stable housing so children can be returned to parents’ custody or maintained in the parents’ care; and
- Help families receiving services to reunify with children or preserve custody of children to avoid homelessness and maintain permanent housing.
Alameda County Social Services provided funding to Alameda County Housing and Community Development which administers the subcontracts for the Family Reunification Pilot. The Alameda County Social Services child welfare caseworkers refer families they are working with who need housing services to EveryOne Home. EveryOne Home is responsible for developing the procedures for the pilot, managing reports to Housing and Community Development and Alameda County Social Services, and overseeing the work of the two experienced Housing Resource Centers selected to participate in the pilot: Abode Services and Building Futures with Women and Children (Building Futures). The pilot pays for the housing services delivered by Abode Services and Building Futures. This includes limited financial assistance for security and utility deposits, rent arrearages, short- to medium-term rental assistance, moving assistance, and temporary motel stays.
To date, most families referred by the child welfare agency are preparing to be reunited with children who have been placed in foster care. For reunification to occur, the families need to stabilize their housing or find new housing. Abode Services and Building Futures work closely with the child welfare caseworkers to coordinate service delivery. They help families find housing, negotiate with landlords, and provide case management designed to increase household income and promote long-term housing stability. Initially, the rent assistance was capped at no more than $1,200 per month. It has since been increased to the Fair Market Rent (FMR). There is no set amount of rental assistance families receive. The pilot was designed to provide families with up to three months of rental assistance, which could be extended as needed based on an ongoing assessment of families’ housing needs.
While the goal was to allow the housing providers to tailor rental assistance to meet the individualized needs of families, a pilot design issue has created challenges. Families are only able to receive rental assistance in the months that the pilot is underway. As a result, families enrolled in the early months of the pilot are able to receive more months of rental assistance than families enrolled in the later months. The extension of the pilot until June 2014 provided more flexibility to serve families already enrolled in the pilot program; however, the end of the pilot is looming. Providers will have very limited ability to tailor the number of months of rental assistance newly enrolled families will receive based on their household needs, especially toward the end of the pilot.
Families are helped to identify and move into housing they can reasonably be expected to sustain with the available months of rental assistance they are eligible to receive. Families who are not expected to be able to absorb rental costs independently within that timeframe may instead receive help to find other sustainable housing options, including moving in with extended family. Abode Services and Building Futures also help families access other housing resources for which they may be eligible, in order to fill gaps in assistance.
As of June 2013, 78 families have been enrolled in the program. One quarter of the families were literally homeless when referred, living in shelters, transitional housing, or in places not intended for human habitation. The remaining faced housing crises that jeopardized their ability to be reunited with their child. Of the 78 families enrolled in the program, 19 families have moved into permanent housing and 4 have elected to enter a congregate transitional housing program, citing their desire to receive the onsite support from case managers and other parents who are reunifying with children who had been placed in foster care.
Lessons Learned. While only a modest number of families have been served to date, there are useful lessons emerging from the pilot. One key lesson is the value of having a wide range of housing tools available to meet families’ housing needs. As experienced rapid re-housing providers, Abode Services and Building Futures housing staff are well aware of the array of housing resources available in the community. They use this knowledge to match families with the best available housing resource. This includes transitional housing for families that desire the additional support that model provides. It also includes helping families apply for permanent rent subsidies or permanent supportive housing when appropriate.
An important lesson is the need to detangle the availability of rental assistance from the time constraints of the pilot. Since a family’s ability to receive rental assistance ends when the pilot ends, the amount of assistance is based on the timeframe of the pilot rather than on what a family needs. The providers struggle with the risks associated with placing a household with multiple barriers to housing into an apartment with very short-term assistance and no ability to extend rental support. There is an inherent tension between the goal of re-housing families with significant challenges quickly, consistent with a Housing First approach, and the reality of having very limited rent resources to extend support to families when needed. This can be addressed in the future by building in more flexibility to tailor and extend assistance.
All of the parents served in the pilot are at risk of having a child removed from the home or are preparing to reunify with their child(ren). It is an enormously stressful period for all family members. For this reason, they often require more support than other homeless families. In addition, the families referred by the child welfare agency are often poorer and have more housing barriers than the families the Housing Resource Centers previously served with HPRP and the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund. As a result, EveryOne Home reports that staff requires more time to work with families to eradicate barriers before housing search can begin. They also find that it is necessary to spend more time helping parents increase their employment income. Connecting families to employment quickly is particularly crucial with the limited availability of rental assistance.
As the pilot is still new, outcome data is limited. EveryOne Home anticipates that on average families will require rental assistance for a longer period of time than the families they assisted with HPRP and TANF resources. They also report that there is a subset of families who will likely require permanent rent subsidies or long-term rental assistance coupled with intensive services in order to stabilize in housing.
Homeless service organizations cannot end family homelessness alone. It will require crafting partnerships with mainstream agencies such as TANF and child welfare, to ensure that they are full participants in solving the housing crises of the families they serve. The partnership that has been fostered between EveryOne Home and ACSS demonstrates the richer services and resources that can be knitted together to help at-risk and homeless families when homeless and mainstream system leaders choose to collaborate. This is a strategy that homeless system leaders may wish to adopt in their own communities. While TANF Emergency Contingency Funds and HPRP are no longer available, TANF resources can still be used to prevent and end family homelessness. HHS has issued an Information Memorandum to state agencies administering TANF outlining how TANF resources can be used to assist at-risk and homeless families. This includes coordinating TANF and HUD funds for rapid re-housing and improving collaboration between homeless service providers and TANF agencies to help families access the income and employment support they require to escape homelessness.
EveryOne Home expanded the investment in housing for vulnerable and homeless families by developing a relationship with Alameda County Social Services, the agency that oversees the TANF and child welfare programs. In forging that relationship, they focused on building the case that the families with housing problems are the same families Alameda County Social Services is charged with serving. They further argued that addressing the housing needs of families on their agency’s caseload could improve the agency’s own performance in achieving its mission to, “…promote the economic social well-being of individuals, families, neighborhoods and communities.” The investment in creating this partnership paid great dividends for the at-risk and homeless families in Alameda County.