Salvation Army Center of Hope: Transitioning to a Low-Barrier Shelter Model With the Primary Goal of Rapidly Exiting People to Permanent Housing

December 20, 2018  |  Toolkits and Training Materials


The Salvation Army Center of Hope in Charlotte, N.C. provides emergency shelter and rapid re-housing to individual women and families with children. An institution in the community for more than 100 years, the Center of Hope embraces a philosophy of accepting people regardless of their needs. The shelter has capacity to serve 340 people.

The Need for Change

Center of Hope’s original model of service delivery was focused on helping clients obtain employment to save money until they could afford housing. However, as affordable housing became more scarce, the community saw an increase in family homelessness, and a rise in the number of families with long stays in shelter. To address this need, Center of Hope transitioned its shelter model to a low-barrier model that has a primary goal: assisting clients to find and retain permanent housing as quickly as possible.

Center of Hope shifted the organizational mindset away from housing readiness to a Housing First philosophy. As a result, the average length of time clients remained in shelter was reduced from 6 months to 39 days.

1) Transition to a Low-Barrier, Housing-Focused Model

Center of Hope removed entry requirements such as sobriety and minimum income to ensure the most vulnerable households would be able to access shelter. Shelter staff were initially hesitant about this change. To help gain their support for this shift, Center of Hope’s Director made sure to continually connect their work and their role to the national goal of ending homelessness.

2) Obtain Stakeholder Buy-in

It was essential to communicate with and gain buy-in from the shelter’s clients. Previously, shelter staff held a meeting every Thursday to discuss shelter rules and expectations. Clients and staff would leave this meeting exhausted. The shelter director reworked this meeting, and she now meets with residents weekly to discuss the national goal of ending homelessness, what rapid re-housing (RRH) is, and what they can do to start looking for housing right away. It became an opportunity to inspire and empower clients to take ownership of their housing.

Finally, the Center of Hope invited another Salvation Army from Ohio, which has used RRH successfully for many years, to present on their model to the Center of Hope’s Board of Directors.

3) Develop Rapid Re-Housing

A major reason the Center of Hope was able to reduce the length of shelter stay was its increased use of rapid re-housing. RRH helped participants save up the resources for housing costs, and connected them with available units. To do this, Center of Hope initially reallocated $315,000 in funding from transitional housing to rapid re-housing.

Case managers started focusing on obtaining permanent housing with clients immediately. From their first meeting with a client, the case manager focuses on developing a plan to find permanent housing as quickly as possible. 

There are four rapid re-housing case managers, including one responsible for building relationships with landlords. Every other week, a housing-focused meeting is held to discuss topics like landlord negotiation. The Charlotte Continuum of Care is working on creating a community-wide effort to recruit landlords — modeled after Seattle’s Landlord Liaison Project. Landlord fairs are also held every month.

In 2015, the Urban Institute conducted an assessment of Center for Hope’s rapid re-housing program. Out of 102 clients served in 2012-2013, 91 percent did not return to the shelter.  On average, financial assistance lasted for three months and totaled $4,800. Of note, a large percentage of clients rapidly re-housed had significant barriers to housing in the past: 65 percent has a previous eviction, 42 percent were unemployed, and 41 percent had a mental illness diagnosis.

The rapid re-housing program is funded through a variety of different funding sources including private foundations, county, and Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) funding.

4) Re-design Shelter Services and Staffing

Case managers shifted their services to focus entirely on helping clients to obtain housing and to work through barriers preventing them from moving in. The shelter discontinued GED services to increase the focus on housing and is exploring ways to provide these services once clients are re-housed. Staff are offered trainings on de-escalation, trauma-informed care, and treating clients with respect.

5) Serve Special Populations

Center of Hope works to accommodate households of different configurations.

Spanish is the most widely spoken language other than English, and the shelter has several Spanish speaking staff.

Prior to the release of HUD’s Equal Access Regulations, households identifying as transgender were provided with hotel vouchers. The shift away from this approach to providing equal access and sheltering these households in the dormitories was supported by ongoing staff training.

6) Engage in Community Planning to Work Within the Crisis Response System

 The Center of Hope’s leadership is very involved with the local Continuum of Care and represents emergency shelters in the community on their coordinated entry committee. The shelter is one of three sites where people seeking homelessness services are assessed and assigned to housing interventions through coordinated entry.