Crossroads Rhode Island: Transitioning to a Low-Barrier Shelter That Focuses on Rapid Exits to Permanent Housing

December 19, 2018  |  Toolkits and Training Materials


Crossroads Rhode Island is the largest homeless service organization in Rhode Island and has served the community since 1894. Crossroads has shelter for families, individuals, and couples experiencing homelessness. They have a variety of shelter models that specialize in serving particular populations:

  • Operation First Step focuses on single adults experiencing homelessness for the first time.
  • The Women’s Shelter has space for 41 women but is often full beyond capacity and adds mattress pads on the community room floor.
  • Citizens Bank Family Center is an emergency shelter for 15 families.
  • Warwick Family Shelter provides emergency shelter for 10 families.

Crossroads also owns and operates a variety of permanent supportive housing programs, rapid re-housing for families and individuals, and a shelter and transitional housing program for survivors of domestic violence.

The Need for Change

In 2011 Crossroads was confronted with two challenges that signaled the need for change:

  • Homelessness in the state was on the rise.
  • Some clients were staying in shelter for years.

The organization had a day-center-like space that welcomed people experiencing homelessness during the day but didn’t assist them into permanent housing.

In 2012, the board of directors approved a shift in the organization’s mission and focus — from managing homelessness to ending it for each individual and family. The following year, consultants from OrgCode Consulting, Inc. were brought in to conduct a review of the organizational model and to help Crossroads undertake a process of organizational change to get better housing outcomes for the people it served.

Organizational Change Process

OrgCode’s initial assessment recommended specific areas for improvement:

  • Re-focusing the community room and reception area on providing access to housing.
  • Implementing shelter diversion.
  • Making rapid re-housing and after-care case management home-based.
  • Converting existing transitional housing into permanent supportive housing to serve the most vulnerable clients.
  • Evaluating total time clients spend in shelter before exiting to housing.

The culture of the shelter environment must change to be aligned with a housing resolution as quickly as possible and supported by all staff within the shelter environment. From the time of admission into the shelter, all residents must be made aware of the goal to have them achieve housing as quickly as possible. – The Pursuit of Awesomeness in Ending Homelessness, OrgCode Consulting, Inc., 2013

Crossroads developed task forces to begin the change process, starting with the following goals:

  • Housing clients who had stayed in shelter the longest.
  • Revamping the front desk reception and community room to make them focused on helping clients access housing.
  • “Moving on” clients from permanent supportive housing who no longer needed this intensive intervention to other types of permanent housing.

These initial efforts allowed staff to work toward integrating a new philosophy of Housing First and embracing a focus on housing clients as quickly as possible throughout the shelter. Longer-term changes included a year-long effort to re-design their staff structure, re-write job descriptions, adopt the VI-SPDAT triage tool and SPDAT case management tools, and move to home-based case management once clients were housed. Crossroads also implemented rapid re-housing programs that helped shelter clients to get out of shelter into housing more quickly.

From 2013 to 2014, 1,238 households were placed into housing, a 26 percent increase in housing placements. The length of time clients stayed in shelter also decreased by 20 percent during this period.

Re-orienting the Shelter’s Environment to Focus on Housing Outcomes

Crossroads also changed the way it measured success — from reporting activities to reporting outcomes. Before, performance reports were focused on the number of people served and the number of bed nights provided. Instead of measuring these outputs, Crossroads began measuring outcomes, such as whether they were increasing how many people exit to permanent housing and decreasing how long people stay in shelter. Staff evaluations were also changed to align with accomplishing these outcomes. 

Small changes in the shelter environment supported the new focus on housing. A large bulletin board on the wall used to be a hodgepodge of community notices.  The board was changed to a “Housing First” focus, and provides resources and information about how to obtain housing. In the women’s shelter there is a bulletin board with all of the resident’s names. When someone obtains housing, their name is moved to a picture of a house, celebrating the accomplishment of moving into housing. Outcomes, such as whether they were increasing how many people exit to permanent housing and decreasing how long people stay in shelter. Staff evaluations were also changed to align with accomplishing these outcomes.

Minimizing Rules and Facilitating Successful Exits to Housing

Crossroads conducted focus groups with shelter clients during the organizational change process. During one of these focus groups a father reported that all the restrictive rules and policies made him feel like he was being treated like a child, simply because he was experiencing homelessness. This prompted Crossroads to have a conversation about reducing unnecessary rules.

Crossroads has reduced the number of rules, and instead encouraged staff to make decisions based on the three Crossroads core values of Safety, Respect, and Effectiveness. New staff in particular are told to evaluate their actions based on alignment with these core values. 

Investing in Rapid Re-Housing

Crossroads has many years of experience with rapid re-housing, having first implemented it in 2009 with the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP). Since then, they have expanded their housing location staff from just one to four full-time Housing Navigators. This allows them to provide state-wide housing location services to other homelessness agencies. With dedicated Housing Navigators, clients can exit shelter and return to housing more quickly. Crossroads also provides home-based case management to rapid re-housing clients.

Focusing on Long-Stayers and Households with the Highest Barriers to Housing

In 2016, Crossroads took over a 112-bed shelter for individual adult men called Harrington Hall. The shelter historically had very few people moving to permanent housing. Just five obtained housing in 2015, and some residents who had lived in the shelter for years. Some long-term residents expressed serious concerns with the new focus on helping them exit shelter to housing — including fears that they would not be successful in housing and were not ready to be housed.

Some of these long-stayers were registered sex offenders who had not been able to find housing due to their criminal history and restrictions on where they could live. Crossroads had all four Housing Navigators work collectively to identify units more quickly and effectively for this hard-to-house population.

Crossroads was able to significantly increase the number of households exiting Harrington Hall to permanent housing — from 5 men exiting shelter to permanent housing in 2015, to 37 exiting to housing from July to December of 2016. These 37 individuals included 10 sex offenders and 17 chronically homeless individuals, 5 of which represented 47 cumulative years of homelessness.

Providing Equal Access and Serving Specific Populations

Crossroads embraced ways to provide equal access to different populations. They recognized that couples without children were choosing to sleep outside rather than be split up by the gender-segregated shelter system. To address this need, two apartments were utilized as shelter specifically for this population. State and private foundation funds were used for security deposits to help re-house these households. Another apartment is utilized as shelter for adults identifying as LGBT who prefer this option.

Because Spanish is the most common language other than English among clients, bilingual staff is available 24 hours a day, and all signage is in Spanish and English.