What’s diversion, you ask, and why do we care? Glad you asked

written by Kim Walker
August 16, 2011
Today's guest post is written by Alliance Capacity Building Associate Kim Walker. Hi all! We’ve been moving forward with our development of “front door” materials (have you visited our Front Door Strategies page?), and this week we’re unveiling our new brief on shelter diversion! What’s diversion, you ask, and why do we care? Glad you asked.
  1. Diversion is defined by the point at which intervention occurs and the type of assistance a household is seeking. At the Alliance, we say that in order for the intervention to be diversion, the household being served must be coming to the homeless assistance system specifically seeking shelter.  Target households for diversion believe they have need somewhere to stay that night.
  2. Diversion reduces homelessness. Shelter diversion works by helping individuals and families seeking shelter find alternative housing options (such as staying with friends or family members).  Diverting households, then, means fewer households will be entering homelessness.  Reducing entries into homelessness is one of the stated goals of the HEARTH Act.  Diverting households from shelter also can reduce the stress and disruption that shelter entry may cause in a household’s daily life. [CA1]
  3. Diversion conserves resources. By finding other housing options for some households, communities can ensure that shelter beds are reserved for those households that literally have nowhere else to go.  Successful diversion, therefore, can ease the demand for shelter beds and reduce the need for overflow shelters and hotel/motel rooms.
  4. It’s not for everyone, but everyone should be assessed for it. Everyone coming to the homeless assistance system should be assessed for diversion eligibility. However, communities should not hesitate to admit people to shelter if they are ineligible to be diverted. Additionally, in situations where a household’s safety may be compromised by being diverted (e.g., the family is fleeing domestic violence and their abuser may be able to locate them if they stay with known family or friends), they should be sent to the safest possible program that can meet their needs.
  5. Service coordination is crucial. Having services available that do not require shelter entry is key to making diversion work. Providing case management at the intake center or where the household is currently living that provides crisis stabilization as well as connection to mainstream resources is just one way communities can make this happen.
  6. The ultimate goal is a return to permanent housing. Although diversion includes a temporary stay somewhere, ultimately the intervention is about getting people back into permanent housing. Therefore, traditional rapid re-housing activities such as housing location and the provision of short-term subsidies or financial assistance are important pieces of a successful diversion program.
We hope you’ll check out the paper to learn more about this approach. As always, I encourage you to connect with me or any of us at Capacity Building if you have any other questions or thoughts!