Rapid Re-Housing is not an Anti-Poverty Program

written by Stuart Campbell
October 17, 2014

When I travel around the country talking about or training on rapid re-housing, one of the statements I make that gets the most reaction is this: rapid re-housing isn’t an anti-poverty program, it is an anti-homelessness program. Without fail, several folks in the room will sit back and consider this statement, seemingly for the first time, even though it should be obvious. Although, as someone who has spent the better part of 25 years working on economic and social justice, I get why this statement can cause a few eyebrows in the room to go up.

Let’s face it; a lot of us get into this line of work because we can’t see abject poverty in our society and simply walk on by. And you can’t hit bottom worse than being poor and homeless. But when I talk about rapid re-housing as a solution to homelessness, a lot of folks raise questions about how a family is going to survive after the support ends. They worry that helping a family or individual into an apartment will set them up to ultimate failure. Many ask, “Wouldn’t they be better off with a housing voucher?” My answer is always the same.

Of course they would. But the reality is that there are not nearly enough housing vouchers to meet the need.

However, when that family or individual is living on the street, what they need right away is a home.

There is significant misunderstanding about what rapid re-housing is and what it is designed to do. Rapid re-housing is not the be-all and end-all of addressing poverty and it is not a solution to housing affordability. It is a crisis response tool to get people immediately off the streets and into housing. We know, for instance, that getting someone off the street and into a home of their own significantly increases a family’s ability to address other issues. Finding a job; escaping from a domestic violence situation; or simply getting back on your feet after a crisis, can be addressed so much more easily if you have a roof over your head and are in a safe environment you call home.

As I have said before in a previous blog post, rapid re-housing requires wrap-around services that are tailored to the family that requires them. It isn’t just a check and a handshake. And just because a community professes to be doing rapid re-housing, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing it well. For instance, housing a family in nine months is not rapid. And neglecting support services; or leaving a family to fend on their own isn’t what is expected either.

Rapid re-housing is a crisis response strategy to address homelessness. Looking at the alternatives – emergency shelter and transitional housing – it is by far a more cost effective and successful strategy. But that doesn’t mean efforts to identify permanent subsidized housing, more affordable units, and address things like livable wages shouldn’t be underway as well.

But when an individual or family is experiencing homelessness, the most important immediate step that a provider can take is to help them stabilize in a home. It doesn’t mean they won’t still be poor, but they will no longer be homeless.