Field Notes: Pilot Program Reduces Homelessness in Cheshire County, NH

written by naehblog
July 31, 2013

Today’s guest blog comes to us from Laurie Saunders-Jewett, Director of Homeless Services at SCS in New Hampshire.


Since the release of the HEARTH Act in 2009, homeless service providers in New Hampshire, like the rest of the country, have been waiting to see what exactly it will mean to us, the work we do, and the impact on the people we serve. In the midst of this uncertainty my organization decided to dive in and test the waters, launching a pilot program implementing shelter diversion and targeted efforts to shorten length of stays in homelessness and increase exits from emergency shelter to permanent housing.

My organization, Southwestern Community Services, Inc. (SCS), was the primary service delivery organization in the area, and seemed a perfect test case for the pilot. As the director of homeless services at SCS, I was intrigued by concepts presented in an Alliance Performance Improvement Clinic. I was interested in seeing if these new ideas, which had been successful in other areas, could be duplicated in my community. 

Step One: Making the Case to Leadership

My first step was convincing the agency CEO, Board of Directors, and senior team that making major changes in the way homeless services were delivered was worth the gamble. I shared research showing the cost of placing people in shelters is actually the most expensive method of meeting the needs of people experiencing homelessness, and that prevention, diversion, and rapid re-housing are significantly less costly to municipalities and tax payers; and more importantly – to the people homeless shelters serve. With some trepidation, our board endorsed the pilot program, but wanted to be kept abreast of the project’s outcomes. 

Step Two: Obtaining Community Buy-in

The second step was to secure community buy-in. We conducted two separate countywide forums. These forums featured speakers from the state’s bureau of homelessness and housing and SCS presenting the plan to shift the way homeless services were being delivered. Attendees at these forums included city and state elected officials, housing advocates, law enforcement, educators, local welfare directors, people experiencing homelessness, stakeholders and concerned citizens. These forums provided opportunity for robust discussion regarding what was and was not working in the current system.

Step Three: Implementation

Finally, with support from our board and the community, SCS initiated a pilot program that included the utilization of a prevention and diversion assessment tool, implementation of shelter diversion strategies, targeted prevention strategies, and rapid-rehousing.

Step Four:  Evaluation.

A good evaluation was critical in determining the effectiveness of the pilot.

The most significant impact was noted in the 2013 Point-in-Time Count for the two counties where the new strategies had been implemented, which you can see below. 

ANNUAL PIT

2012

2013

Difference

Decreased

Cheshire County Sheltered

120

103

-17

14%

Cheshire County Unsheltered

35

24

-10

29%

Sullivan County Sheltered

91

53

38

42%

Sullivan County Unsheltered

22

5

-17

77%

 

In addition, the length of stay (LOS) for persons in emergency shelter saw a significant decrease as well:

Locations

Avg. LOS on 6/30/2012

Avg. LOS on 12/31/2012

Decreased

Keene Shelters

97.95 days

78 days

20%

Claremont Shelters

56.77

38

35%

Overall, shelter exits to permanent housing increased from 42 percent in 2012, to 47 percent in 2013.

As you can see, these efforts do produce more positive and more humane outcomes.  For the first time in 11 years, there are empty beds in the emergency shelters in Cheshire County! Those that are homeless or at-risk of homelessness are being helped with a light touch to find creative solutions to their temporary housing challenge and being empowered to direct their own lives in terms of housing stability.