Closing the Front Door: Creating a Successful Diversion Program for Homeless Families


Best Practice | August 16, 2011

Files: PDF | 212 KB | 8 pages

This is an excerpt from this 8-page brief. You can read it entirely by downloading the brief.

Diversion is a strategy that prevents homelessness for people seeking shelter by helping them identify immediate alternate housing arrangements and, if necessary, connecting them with services and financial assistance to help them return to permanent housing. Diversion programs can reduce the number of families becoming homeless, the demand for shelter beds, and the size of program wait lists. Diversion programs can also help communities achieve better outcomes and be more competitive when applying for federal funding. This paper will describe how communities can begin diverting families from entering their homeless assistance systems.

Distinguishing Diversion from Other Interventions
The services families are provided with when being diverted are services that caseworkers in most poverty and homeless assistance organizations are already trained and funded to deliver. They include:

    provision of financial, utility, and/or rental assistance;
  • short-term case management;
  • conflict mediation;
  • connection to mainstream services (services that come from agencies outside of the homeless assistance system, such as welfare agencies) and/or benefits; and
  • housing search.

The main difference between diversion and other permanent housing-focused interventions centers on the point at which intervention occurs. Prevention targets people at imminent risk of homelessness, diversion targets people as they are applying for entry into shelter, and rapid re-housing targets people who are already homeless.

Assessing for Diversion Eligibility
Assessment and service delivery for the interventions referenced in Table 1 would ideally begin at the system entry point for homeless families. In systems with a coordinated intake process, the entry point would be the designated intake center(s) or “front door(s);” in systems without coordinated entry processes, the system entry point would be whatever program the family comes to first for shelter assistance.

Once families come to the entry point, they should be assessed to determine what housing needs they have. To determine which families are appropriate for diversion, intake center staff will need to ask families a few specific questions, such as:

  • Where did you sleep last night? If they slept somewhere where they could potentially safely stay again, this might mean they are good candidates for diversion.
  • What other housing options do you have for the next few days or weeks? Even if there is an option outside of shelter that is only available for a very short time, it’s worth exploring if this housing resource can be used.
  • (If staying in someone else’s housing) What issues exist with you remaining in your current housing situation? Can those issues be resolved with financial assistance, case management, etc.? If the issues can be solved with case management, mediation, or financial assistance (or all of the above), diversion is a good option.
  • (If coming from their own unit) Is it possible/safe to stay in your current housing unit? What resources would you need to do that (financial assistance, case management, mediation, transportation, etc.)? If the family could stay in their current housing with some assistance, systems should focus on a quick prevention-oriented solution that will keep the family in their unit.

Families typically meet with a case manager to start housing stabilization planning immediately after being assessed and deemed appropriate for diversion. Housing planning involves both finding immediate housing and planning for longer term housing stability. If an immediate alternate housing arrangement cannot be made, a shelter stay is likely the most appropriate option.

Some families may not be good candidates for diversion programs due to a lack of safe and appropriate housing alternatives and require immediate admittance to shelter, e.g. families fleeing domestic violence. Families’ safety should always be the top consideration when thinking through what intervention fits them best.