Engaging TANF Leaders Gets Results

written by Sharon McDonald
December 3, 2012

In July, The White House recognized Frank Cirillo, Director of the Mercer County Board of Social Services (MCBOSS) in Trenton, NJ as a “Champion of Change” for his work on ending family homelessness. It was well deserved recognition. Cirillo’s agency, which administers the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, has taken a leadership role in the effort to end family homelessness in Mercer County. The agency’s efforts have paid off.

Over a two year period, the number of families experiencing homelessness on any given day in Cirillo’s county decreased by 20 percent. The number of families receiving a motel voucher because they had nowhere else to stay declined by 66 percent. How did this happen? It happened because this TANF agency and its partners focused on helping families in the Mercer County homeless service system exit homelessness faster by providing:

  • Temporary rental assistance;
  • Help negotiating with area landlords;
  • Assistance finding employment; and
  • Supportive Services.

When families move out of homelessness faster, the numbers of families in shelters each day decline. That means that the county doesn’t need to rely as heavily on motels when shelters are full. This strategy can free up funding, which can be used to help families move back into housing.

Leaders of the TANF agency were so pleased with the results that they decided to expand rapid rehousing capacity in the community by creating an in-house rapid re-housing unit. The agency staff of this unit help families look for housing in the community, negotiate with landlords (often achieving rent reductions), and ensure that families access employment services, so they can transition from temporary rental assistance to paying their rent independently.

It was the work of homeless advocates that led TANF leaders to make this investment in rapid re-housing. The Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness engaged TANF agency leaders and other local funders in an exploration of how the county’s homeless assistance system could be improved, which led to a commitment by funders to supporting rapid re-housing.

On Thursday, December 6 at 3 p.m. EST, the National Alliance to End Homelessness will host a webinar that will explore how homeless advocates and service providers are effectively partnering with TANF leaders in their communities to promote rapid re-housing. The webinar will explore the rapid re-housing models in use in three communities and how the local leaders on homelessness successfully built partnerships with their local TANF agency leaders to rapidly re-house families. Speakers will include:

  • Herb Levine of the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness
  • Michelle Flynn of The Road Home in Salt Lake City, and
  • Greg Morris of CATCH, Inc. in Boise.

Please consider participating in the webinar on Thursday. You can register here.