Examining the Federal Plan: Objective 10 – Crisis Response Systems

written by Marisa Seitz
July 1, 2010
And we’re back! The Alliance is examining all ten goals of Opening Doors, the federal strategic plan to end homelessness. You may remember that we took a closer look at Goal 8 – Ending Youth Homelessness a bit back. As the Alliance’s new media intern, I’m really excited to be writing this series, because every time I examine one of these goals, I get to learn about a new aspect of homelessness and solutions to homelessness (and really, that’s what the Alliance is all about). This week we’ll be looking at Objective 10: “Transform homeless services to crisis response systems that prevent homelessness and rapidly return people who experience homelessness to stable housing.” To learn more about this objective, I talked to Norm Suchar, our new (!) Director of the Center for Capacity Building (formerly senior policy analyst at the Alliance). The first thing I tried to wrap my head around was what this objective meant, and why it was part of the federal plan. Right now, the “crisis response system” in place is shelters. When someone encounters an event that creates a situation where they can no longer afford housing, the first response is to put them in a shelter. This shelter system, however, is not effective if we are to eradicate homelessness. The crisis response system for homelessness needs to be transformed, so that when someone enters a crisis situation and that person’s housing needs are addressed, we turn to permanent solutions and not just shelter. The system needs to be pretty sophisticated. We’ll need to figure out what happened with each person and create customized solutions using the resources available to someone in that specific situation. And situations vary wildly: sometimes it’s a problem with a landlord; in this case, conflict management of the situation should be attempted. Maybe a person lost their job and can’t afford the rent this month; in that case, we could offer rent subsidies or rent assistance so that the person has some time to find employment. These strategies that prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place - and that’s what a crisis response should be doing. How will we achieve this? The federal plan suggests several strategies, among them – the $1.5 billion stimulus-funded program Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP). The program is a primary tool in changing the infrastructure of the system. HPRP funds are intended to focus on key strategies to prevent and end homelessness – including prevention strategies and rapid re-housing strategies. Communities across the country are utilizing HPRP to systematically transform the way they approach homelessness at the local level. (In fact, we’re doing some reporting on it!) Another key is to integrate mainstream poverty programs. It’s no surprise that there exist federal programs to help vulnerable and low-income people and families, including Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid (now new and improved as a result of health care reform), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This is by no means an exhaustive list of available resources – but only by leveraging all the resources available for vulnerable individuals and families will we truly be able to assist families out of homelessness. The moral at the heart of this story is transformation. We can transform systems that exist today so that they’re more proactive about preventing homelessness before it starts – and when it occurs, ending it swiftly with rapid re-housing techniques.