Community Snapshot: Columbus

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Community Snapshot | August 4, 2006

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May 2006

By redesigning their programs to focus on prevention and housing first, and regularly measuring performance, Columbus has reduced the number of families that become homeless and increased the percentage of families that successfully move into permanent housing. Columbus uses data and performance measures to ensure that homeless families move through the homeless assistance system quickly and receive the services they need to maintain stable housing. The Community Shelter Board, a nonprofit umbrella organization, oversees this system and fosters collaboration between the numerous community based organizations.

The Community Shelter Board used data from an early Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) to identify program models and services that demonstrated successful outcomes. These findings led to a reorganization of homeless services, changing the focus from providing emergency shelter to helping families locate and move into permanent housing, and then linking them with services needed to help them remain stable.

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These programs are cost-effective, enabling the Community Shelter Board to stretch funding and serve families better. Interventions are targeted to closely match families’ needs. Families with fewer service needs move quickly into permanent housing to avoid expensive long term shelter stays. Services are provided to help families gain incomes and stabilize in their housing, thus reducing repeat homelessness episodes. Higher cost interventions, such as permanent supportive housing or transitional housing, are targeted to families with many barriers to moving into housing.

Columbus achieved success using resources and strategies that could be replicated by homelessness providers in most communities. While some cities have reduced homelessness with a special infusion of funding from their state or local government, Columbus has relied on traditional funding sources, including HUD Homeless Assistance funding and the United Way.

By redesigning their programs to focus on prevention and housing first, and regularly measuring performance, Columbus has reduced the number of families that become homeless and increased the percentage of families that successfully move into permanent housing. Columbus uses data and performance measures to ensure that homeless families move through the homeless assistance system quickly and receive the services they need to maintain stable housing. The Community Shelter Board, a nonprofit umbrella organization, oversees this system and fosters collaboration between the numerous community-based organizations.

The Community Shelter Board used data from an early Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) to identify program models and services that demonstrated successful outcomes. These findings led to a reorganization of homeless services, changing the focus from providing emergency shelter to helping families locate and move into permanent housing, and then linking them with services needed to help them remain stable. These programs are cost-effective, enabling the Community Shelter Board to stretch funding and serve families better. Interventions are targeted to closely match families’ needs. Families with fewer service needs move quickly into permanent housing to avoid expensive long term shelter stays. Services are provided to help families gain incomes and stabilize in their housing, thus reducing repeat homelessness episodes. Higher cost interventions, such as permanent supportive housing or transitional housing, are targeted to families with many barriers to moving into housing.

Columbus achieved success using resources and strategies that could be replicated by homelessness providers in most communities. While some cities have reduced homelessness with a special infusion of funding from their state or local government, Columbus has relied on traditional funding sources, including HUD Homeless Assistance funding and the United Way.

Data and Planning. Data and planning are essential components of Columbus’s efforts to end homelessness. Underlying these initiatives is a quarterly evaluation process using HMIS data that focuses on a few key measures, including the length of time families are homeless, the success rate for placing families into housing, and lower recidivism back into homelessness. Data from the HMIS system help program managers evaluate programs and properly allocate resources.

Outcomes

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Targeting services and focusing on prevention and permanent housing is beginning to show results. In 1995, 1,168 families entered Columbus’s homeless system. This figure peaked at 1,217 in 1997 before declining to 696 in 2004 (See Exhibit 1). Much of the decline is attributed to prevention efforts. Successful housing outcomes have risen steadily for families in Columbus’s homeless system from 27 percent in 1995 to 61 percent in 2004 (See Exhibit 2).

Repeated episodes of homelessness are also decreasing. Since the adoption of new strategies, families that exit homelessness to permanent housing are unlikely to return to shelter. For example, fewer than 5 percent of families who successfully exit emergency shelter return within 90 days.