Field Notes: Focusing on Permanent Housing

written by Kim Walker
January 23, 2013

Many communities just finished the process of submitting their Continuum of Care (CoC) applications to HUD in which they talked about how they plan to expand on their successes and improve on their weaknesses in ending homelessness locally. These applications contained ideas about how to target interventions more carefully, count more accurately, and improve performance across the board. At the Alliance, we’ve been thinking about how best to implement the HEARTH Act as well, on a national scale. In the coming months, we’re going to share with our readers some HEARTH Implementation best practices that we’ve identified at the program and system levels. 

For today’s blog, we’d like to talk about how to incorporate a permanent housing focus into your program’s work. Adopting a more housing-focused model for most programs will be important in order to help them improve on two of the big three HEARTH Act outcomes: reducing lengths of stay in homelessness and reducing repeat entries into homelessness. Homeless assistance systems make a big impact on their homeless numbers by helping households locate and pay for housing and then providing services to help them stabilize in housing (e.g., help them access mainstream and community resources and apply for benefits or employment).

Here are three concrete steps you can take to increase your program’s focus on permanent housing (followed by some things you should be considering when taking these steps):

1. Review your staff positions, training, and job descriptions:

  • Are staff properly trained and oriented toward helping people move into permanent housing?
  • Are staff familiar with housing assistance resources available in the community?
  • Do staff have the skills necessary to work with landlords?
  • Are they providing home-based voluntary services to help households stabilize in their housing?

2. Assess your program’s budget:

  • Does your program have the ability to provide financial assistance for security deposits, rental assistance, utilities, and other items? Having this money on hand is extremely important for helping people move into permanent housing.
  • Are there budget items that could be redirected to providing this financial assistance?  If so, could you map out a plan for reallocating these resources?

3. Review your program’s rules and policies:

  • Many programs are designed to help people achieve self-sufficiency goals and have rules and policies that are focused on that goal. With an increased focus on permanent housing, many of these policies should be reevaluated, particularly if they are delaying a household’s re-entry into permanent housing (e.g., program may currently require that a person go through budgeting classes before helping them find housing).
  • Is your program changing its policies so that stabilization activities become part of a household’s housing plan after they move into permanent housing?

For more help on this topic, programs should look to:

Be sure to check back with the Alliance blog in the coming months to learn more on future HEARTH implementation topics. At the program level we will be talking about how to:

  • Measure performance, specifically on HEARTH Act outcomes;
  • Make adjustments to your program to improve outcomes;
  • Participate in systemwide efforts, like coordinated assessment, in a way that also improves your programs’ outcomes; and
  • Include consumers in your work in a meaningful way.