Creating a Plan for the Homelessness Prevention Fund

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National Alliance to End Homelessness

Solutions Brief | March 5, 2009

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Creating a Plan for the Homelessness Prevention Fund
March 5, 2009

The Alliance has created this guide to help communities prepare a plan to submit to HUD for their share of the $1.5 billion Homelessness Prevention Fund (HPF), which can fund homelessness prevention or re-housing for households (individuals or families) who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. This guide can be used by public agencies responsible for submitting the plan, as well as the public and private partners who will be involved in developing the plan. The Guide was prepared before HUD issued its guidelines for the HPF. The content reflects the legislation as passed by Congress and best practices in prevention and re-housing. HUD's program guidance is scheduled to be released March 19, and the plans will likely be due to HUD in April or May. The Alliance will update this document to reflect HUD's notice and any other new information.

In addition to preventing increases in homelessness because of the recession, the Homelessness Prevention Fund offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform homeless assistance to be more effective and efficient. This resource can be used not only to enhance existing activities, but to transform homeless assistance, shifting the focus from providing shelter to preventing homelessness and quickly re-housing people who do become homeless.

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Contents

Overview
Guide for Creating Plan

Funding Allocation Template and Sample Activities
Targeting Criteria: Prevention
Key Partnerships

This Guide will help communities prepare a plan to submit to HUD for the Homelessness Prevention Fund (HPF). It includes information about the best practices for using funds effectively and efficiently. In more normal times, and especially during this economic crisis, there are many people who are in poverty and have housing problems. HPF resources cannot possibly meet all of their needs, and so communities must be strategic about their use of resources. Without careful planning and targeting, homelessness prevention funds will have little impact on homelessness.

Two principles are reflected throughout this document that will help make HPF resources more effective at preventing and ending homelessness.

  • Resources should be targeted to households with the highest likelihood of becoming homeless.
  • Programs should provide just enough assistance to prevent or end an episode of homelessness, stretching resources as far as possible.

Overview

An effective prevention and re-housing system has three layers: prevention, shelter diversion, and Rapid Re-housing. Homelessness prevention serves a large number of people who are at risk of homelessness and is the least expensive intervention on a per-client basis. If prevention fails to identify somebody at risk of homelessness or fails to prevent a person's homelessness, that person may contact and enter the shelter system. Diversion is essentially an eleventh hour effort to prevent homelessness by assisting people who apply for shelter by identifying other safe housing options and resources, even if they are temporary. If prevention and diversion fail, and people become homeless, then Rapid Re-housing minimizes their stay in homelessness by quickly helping them move into permanent housing. On average, the interventions should get progressively more intensive, although the level of assistance for an individual household will depend greatly on the specific circumstances of that household.

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Though prevention, diversion, and re-housing target distinct populations, many of the activities are similar. It is entirely possible, and in some cases preferable, to have a single program or provider perform two or three of those functions.

Prevention
Effective prevention programs typically assess immediate housing needs, explore housing options and resources, provide flexible financial assistance, and, when appropriate, offer voluntary case management services focused on housing stabilization. Mandating case management usually offers no added benefit. In cases where the current housing situation cannot be stabilized, housing location and short-term rental assistance may be necessary to help find a new housing unit. (Activities—Housing Location, Flexible Financial Assistance, Rental Assistance, and Case Management—are described below).

Prevention assistance must be carefully targeted to have a meaningful impact on homelessness, as most people who have a housing crisis do not become homeless. At a minimum, prevention resources should be targeted to people who have extremely low incomes (below 30 percent of area median income), who have a demonstrated housing crisis (e.g. request to vacate doubled up situation), and who lack protective factors, such as friends or family members who can help them. If possible, Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) data or other data about homelessness in the community should be assessed to identify additional factors that would help target resources to those most at risk of homelessness. In the absence of local data, programs should use risk factors described later in this document.

Diversion
Diversion programs attempt to prevent homelessness for people who are applying for shelter. Diversion programs try to help people return to the housing they just left or move in with friends or family using financial incentives or mediation. If that situation cannot be made permanent, then the diversion program will work to immediately locate other housing. Targeting is clearer with diversion programs because people applying for shelter are at high risk. As with prevention programs, diversion programs typically involve one-time financial assistance and the offer of brief case management. When that is not sufficient, then housing location and short-term rental assistance may be necessary.

Rapid Re-housing
Re-housing programs work with people who are already homeless to help them quickly move into rental housing. Rapid Re-housing programs tend to be short-term (1 - 12 months) and involve housing location, financial assistance, and an offer of case management. Short-term rental assistance is provided when necessary. When serving people with significant disabilities or with very limited income capacity, Rapid Re-housing programs must coordinate with other community resources to ensure that participants are linked to ongoing assistance, such as housing vouchers, intensive case management, or assertive community treatment.

Prevention, Diversion, and Rehousing Functions

Housing Location. Housing locators identify affordable housing and encourage landlords to rent to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. They also help negotiate reasonable rents and lease terms and work to address credit issues with a potential tenant. Housing locators are generally available to the landlord and tenant in case there are problems.
Flexible Financial Assistance. This activity includes assistance for first and last months’ rent, deposits, utilities, rental assistance for a final month at a location, moving cost assistance, or other activities that will directly help a person stay in his or her current housing situation or quickly move to a new location. Disbursements should be requested by a staff person or case manager working with the household and based on whether funding will help overcome an immediate barrier to entering or maintaining housing. Grants will average approximately $1,500, but depend greatly on the circumstances and the community.
Short/Medium-Term Rental Assistance. Rental assistance is provided for 1-18 months depending on the needs of the household. Rental assistance may be deep (tenant contributes no more than 30 percent of income for rent) or shallow (subsidy pays for a smaller portion of the rent). Rental assistance should target people who will likely not be able to move quickly into permanent housing without it.
Case Management. Case Managers (sometimes referred to as service coordinators) work with people to ensure that their housing situation is stable and that they access the benefits and services they need. Case managers also help mediate disputes between tenants and landlords. Case managers should refer participants to other community providers that can better address other service or self-sufficiency needs.

To be most effective, communities should offer all three types of services (prevention, diversion, and re-housing). Having only a diversion or re-housing program will encourage people in crisis to enter the shelter system to get assistance, which could unnecessarily overwhelm the shelter system. Lacking a re-housing program will likely result in people staying in shelter longer than necessary, which is costly and results in poor outcomes.

Integrate and coordinate programs whenever possible. For example, the same housing locators and case managers can serve people through the prevention, diversion, or re-housing programs. In some smaller communities, a single program could provide eviction prevention, diversion, and re-housing interventions. In most communities, a single program could provide flexible financial assistance and rental assistance for people in all three types of programs.

A community should also consider other resources available to them to supplement their prevention and re-housing efforts. For example, States are receiving additional funding for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) that can be used to provide short-term rent assistance and other help that effectively prevents or ends homelessness. Examples of resources can be found in this document: http://www.endhomelessness.org/content/article/detail/2179.

Guide for Creating a Plan

Following is a template for developing a plan to submit to HUD for the Homelessness Prevention Fund. Note that this is a preliminary guide pending release of the Notice for the Homelessness Prevention Fund.

Information about homelessness in the jurisdiction.
The plan should be informed by data from point-in-time homelessness counts, relevant Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) data (if available), and information on unemployment, evictions, or other economic hardship. Data on affordable housing, including vacancy rates and market rents, is also helpful for developing the plan.

Goals
Describe how the plan will address the following three goals:

  • Prevent people from becoming homeless.
  • Divert people who are applying for shelter, when appropriate, into other housing.
  • Help people who become homeless to quickly move into permanent housing.

Goal 1. Prevent people from becoming homeless.
Prevention requires extensive community outreach to identify people at risk of becoming homeless. It also requires good targeting of prevention resources to ensure that resources reach people most likely to become homeless. A good plan will have objectives related to outreach, targeting, and effectiveness.

A.Outreach—How many people at risk of homelessness are receiving preliminary housing assessments?

Most people who are at high risk of homelessness do not seek prevention assistance. They may have trouble navigating social service networks or not realize the danger they are in. The plan should describe how a prevention program will reach people who are at highest risk and how prevention will reach the community’s diverse populations. Strategies should include working with organizations and agencies that serve people at risk of homelessness, including:

  • Direct outreach in high-need neighborhoods
  • Public agencies that serve people in poverty or at risk of homelessness
  • Health care programs, including hospitals, mental health, substance use treatment, and health clinics
  • Housing Agencies
  • Property managers/landlords
  • Faith and community-based organizations

A list of potential partners for prevention and other activities is included at the end of this document.

As part of their regular work, these organizations should ask basic questions about a person's housing stability to see if a referral to a homelessness prevention program is warranted.

B.Targeting—Are the people being assisted likely to become homeless without assistance?

There should be a process to ensure that people being targeted for assistance would likely become homeless without assistance. The best way to do this is to analyze homelessness data (from HMIS, surveys, or another source) to determine the characteristics (living situation, income level, level of disability, level of supports, education, etc) of people who become homeless and create risk assessment criteria. In the absence of good information about the characteristics of homeless people in the community, targeting should be based on risk factors identified by research in other communities, including people who—

  • Have income below 15 percent of area median income
  • Are families with children and a secondary tenant (doubled up)
  • Have experienced 2 or more moves in the past year
  • Have a young child (under age 2)
  • Are under age 24 and were in foster care at some point
  • Have a prior episode of homelessness
  • Have an eviction from public or assisted housing
  • Have experienced domestic violence in the past 30 days
  • History of non-compliance (e.g. missed appointments with caseworkers)
  • Have a severe and persistent mental illness

**NOTE: These risk factors are ones the Alliance has identified as being good risk factors to use in a homelessness prevention program. HUD will likely use only some of these risk factors and will also include some different ones in its notice on using Homelessness Prevention Funds.**

C. Effectiveness—Do the people served avoid homelessness?Prevention programs should measure the effectiveness of their programs, but their measures should consider the risk level of the population they are serving. Very high success rates may indicate that the program is “creaming”—serving people who are not really at high risk of homelessness. Programs should strive to provide just enough assistance to prevent homelessness. In this way, resources will serve more people and prevent more episodes of homelessness.

The plan should address how rental assistance and flexible financial assistance will be provided and how programs will ensure that these resources are used efficiently. The plan should address how prevention programs will be measured to ensure that they do not cream. It should also measure the cost effectiveness of the program. The plan should also address how these measures will account for varying levels of risk to ensure that providers have incentive to serve people at highest risk of homelessness.

Goal 1 Measures

  • Number of households identified as having a housing problem that warrant a referral to a homelessness prevention program
  • Number and percentage of people served who are at highest risk of homelessness (stratify by risk factors such as income, housing situation, etc.)
  • Number and percentage of highest-risk households served who do not become homeless within 12 months
  • Cost per household assisted
  • Overall number of people who become homeless in the community

Goal 2. Divert people who are applying for shelter, when appropriate, into other housing.
The plan should address shelter diversion activities. When people apply for shelter, they should automatically be assessed for the possibility of remaining in their current housing or staying in alternative accommodations, even for a few days or weeks, while more stable housing is identified. Because of the immediacy of the crisis, it is imperative that flexible financial assistance be readily available and that it can be used for a variety of needs, including payments to friends/family/roommates who agree to house a person or family, if appropriate, until a more permanent housing solution can be secured.

The success of diversion may depend on local laws and ordinances, whether landlords have an incentive to keep tenants because of low demand, and other factors. The reward for a successful diversion is high. Diversion candidates would almost certainly become homeless without assistance, and avoiding a homeless episode can save tens of thousands of dollars with tremendous benefit for the individuals or family.

There are times when diversion programs are not appropriate.

  • The safety of a family or individual must be considered. People who flee domestic violence or another dangerous situation should not be encouraged to return to the same housing unless the threat has been mitigated.
  • Diversion should not prevent entry into shelter for people who are literally homeless with no other safe options. Denying shelter entry is not the same as diverting people from shelter to other realistic alternatives.

Goal 2 Measures

  • Number and percentage of households who apply for shelter or other homeless assistance who are assessed for diversion
  • Number and percentage of households who are successfully diverted from homelessness
  • Number and percentage of households who are diverted who become homeless within 12 months
  • Cost per household assisted

Goal 3. Help people who become homeless to quickly move into permanent housing.
Most people who become homeless can exit homelessness quickly with assistance. The plan should address how people will be assessed within a few days of entering shelter for their strengths, resources, and barriers to exiting homelessness, focusing on credit problems, prior evictions, income, and any other factors that are immediate obstacles to renting an apartment or returning to family/friends. The housing search process should begin as soon as possible.

Goal 3 Measures

  • Number and percentage of households who are assessed for their barriers to housing within 7 days of shelter entry
  • Average length of time people are homeless (for all homeless people in the system and for just those served by a re-housing program)
  • Percentage of households who receive re-housing services who do not become homeless again within 12 months
  • Overall number of people in shelter
  • Number of landlords and the number of units of housing that participate in the re-housing program

Overarching Considerations
The plan should balance prevention, diversion, and re-housing activities to ensure that people are not entering shelter to receive assistance and to ensure that people can get assistance, even if they do become homeless.

The plan should describe how Homelessness Prevention Funds will be coordinated with other funding sources, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), public or assisted housing, and other local prevention, utility assistance, or income support programs. Examples include:

  • Public Housing Agency contributing Section 8 vouchers to help with homelessness prevention and re-housing
  • TANF agency providing four months of rental assistance for prevention and re-housing (for more information, see: http://www.endhomelessness.org/content/article/detail/2200)
  • Community Action Agency providing case management services to people served by prevention or re-housing programs.

Case managers should focus on housing stabilization. However, families served may have many other service needs. The plan should describe how these needs will be addressed by the appropriate agencies or organizations. Service needs may include: mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, education, employment, and health care.

Collaborate with other jurisdictions in your area. In several metropolitan areas, multiple jurisdictions are receiving separate grants. Those jurisdictions should work together or merge funds. Similarly, neighboring counties may benefit from collaboration. Collaboration should include using standardized assessment tools and program interventions.

Performance measurement should be integrated into the planning and implementation of HPF. The Alliance has developed a toolkit on performance measurement (http://www.endhomelessness.org/content/article/detail/2040/). Although it is not specifically designed for HPF resources, it contains many useful tools to assist programs and systems with implementation of prevention, diversion, and re-housing. Communities should also consider whether they should use an outside evaluator. Transparency of reporting will help create accountability and credibility.

The plans should address how the grantee and providers will communicate program availability and requirements to the public, community leaders, providers, and others. It should also address how providers will train staff to deliver culturally appropriate services.

Funding Allocation Template and Sample Activities

The Alliance has prepared a template for allocating funds among different activities and more specific sample activity charts and budgets for 4 hypothetical grantees. The template and charts are intended as a guide. A grantee should also consider other resources that may be available, community needs, and local housing and staffing costs.

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Notes
This chart is intended as a guide. A grantee should also consider the existing infrastructure, community needs, and local costs of housing and labor. The spending plan is for 24 months. Grantees will be required to spend 60 percent of resources within 24 months and 100 percent within 36 months.

Flexible Financial Assistance: Average grants are approximately $1,000. Grants related to homelessness prevention may be lower, while those related to diversion and re-housing may be higher.

Housing Location/Case Management: With smaller grants, the housing location and case management functions may best be combined. Another option is to utilize existing service providers (community action agencies, family support centers, etc.) to provide case management.

Rental Assistance: Typical rental assistance will involve 3-6 months of assistance at approximately $500 per month, although some households will need rental assistance for longer.

Housing Resource Database: A centralized database of affordable and available rental units. Smaller communities should consider coordinating with other communities nearby on a housing resource database.

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Notes
This chart is intended as a guide. A grantee should also consider the existing infrastructure, community needs, and local costs of housing and labor. The spending plan is for 24 months. Grantees will be required to spend 60 percent of resources within 24 months and 100 percent within 36 months.

Flexible Financial Assistance: Average grants are approximately $1,500. Grants related to homelessness prevention may be lower, while those related to diversion and re-housing may be higher.

Caseworkers: A typical client to caseworker ratio for prevention and re-housing programs is 30 to 1, and clients are typically served for approximately 6 months, although it can range from 3 to 18 months.

Rental Assistance: Typical rental assistance will involve 3-6 months of assistance at approximately $500 per month, although rental assistance may be needed for longer.

Housing Resource Database: A centralized database of affordable and available rental units.

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Notes
This chart is intended as a guide. A grantee should also consider the existing infrastructure, community needs, and local costs of housing and labor. The spending plan is for 24 months. Grantees will be required to spend 60 percent of resources within 24 months and 100 percent within 36 months.

Flexible Financial Assistance: Average grants are approximately $2,500. Grants related to homelessness prevention may be lower, while those related to diversion and re-housing may be higher.

Caseworkers: A typical client to caseworker ratio for prevention and re-housing programs is 30 to 1, and clients are typically served for approximately 6 months, although it can range from 3 to 18 months.

Rental Assistance: Typical rental assistance will involve 6-12 months of assistance at approximately $750 per month, although rental assistance may be needed for longer.

Housing Resource Database: A centralized database of affordable and available rental units.

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Notes
This chart is intended as a guide. A grantee should also consider the existing infrastructure, community needs, and local costs of housing and labor. The spending plan is for 24 months. Grantees will be required to spend 60 percent of resources within 24 months and 100 percent within 36 months.

Flexible Financial Assistance: Average grants are approximately $1,000. Grants related to homelessness prevention may be lower, while those related to diversion and re-housing may be higher.

Caseworkers: A typical client to caseworker ratio for prevention and re-housing programs is 30 to 1, and clients are typically served for approximately 6 months, although it can range from 3 to 18 months.

Rental Assistance: Typical rental assistance will involve 3-6 months of assistance at approximately $500 per month, although rental assistance may be needed for longer.

Housing Resource Database: A centralized database of affordable and available rental units.

Additional Considerations: States may distribute funds by passing resources through to counties or cities, or they may set up regional or statewide programs. If funding is passed through to counties, the state should consider setting aside a small percentage of funds to promote regional collaboration between counties and between cities and counties. Those cities and counties that receive funding could use the activity templates for communities of that size. If a state is setting up regional or statewide programs, it should consider several factors:

  • Rural areas may have no shelters, so resources in those areas will be focused on prevention and immediate re-housing.
  • Communities with lower housing costs will need flexible financial assistance more than rental assistance.
  • If resources are spread across many communities, case management and housing location functions should be combined.

Targeting Criteria for Homelessness Prevention

This tool describes a sample eligible population for homelessness prevention and provides an example of a high-risk group that should be targeted for prevention assistance. If possible, the highest risk profile described below should be informed or replaced by data from a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), surveys of homeless people, or other local information. In general, the opinions of providers and advocates are an unreliable source of information about risk of homelessness.

**NOTE: These risk factors are ones the Alliance has identified as being good risk factors to use in a homelessness prevention program. HUD will likely use only some of these risk factors and will also include some different ones in its Notice on using Homelessness Prevention Funds.**

Eligible Population
Households (including unaccompanied adults or youth, adult couples, single adults with children, and couples with children) with all of the following characteristics—

  • Have an income below 30 percent of area median income
  • Have a housing crisis, including an eviction action, severe overcrowding, or documentation that they will no longer be able to stay at their current location
  • Lack other resources or support networks to obtain stable housing

Highest Risk Population
Households (including unaccompanied adults or youth, adult couples, single adults with children, and couples with children) with all of the following characteristics—

  • Meets the criteria for eligible population above
  • Has income below 15 percent of area median income
  • Has one or more of the following characteristics
    • Is a family with children and doubled up
    • Has experienced 2 or more moves in the past year
    • Has a young child (under age 2)
    • Is under age 24 and was in foster care at some point
    • Has a prior episode of homelessness
    • Has an eviction from public or assisted housing
    • Has experienced domestic violence in the past 30 days
    • Has missed 2 or more appointments with a caseworker
    • Has a severe and persistent mental illness
    • Is being evicted from public or assisted housing

Key Partnerships

Partnerships will be critical to effectively utilizing HPF resources. Partners should be involved in four activities:

  • Developing the plan
  • Prevention Outreach—helping identify people who could be at risk of homelessness
  • Carrying out prevention, diversion, and re-housing activities
  • Providing support to families after they receive assistance to improve stability, well-being, and self sufficiency

Key partners include organizations, agencies, and members of the public who fund programs or interact regularly with people in crisis, poverty, or at risk of homelessness. These may include the following:

  • Head Start and Early Head Start Agencies
  • TANF Agencies
  • WIC Agencies
  • Hospitals and Health Clinics
  • Mental Health Agencies
  • Public Housing Agencies
  • Property Mangers/Landlords
  • Utility Companies
  • Police
  • Food Banks
  • Substance Abuse Treatment Programs
  • Child Welfare Agencies
  • Jails, Prisons, and Probation Offices
  • Courts
  • Culturally Specific Organizations
  • Shelters and Homeless Assistance Providers
  • Churches and other Faith-Based Organizations
  • Domestic Violence Programs
  • Veterans Services Organizations
  • Public Housing Tenant Associations
  • Legal Aid Agencies
  • School Homeless Liaisons
  • Community Resource Centers
  • Family Support Centers
  • Businesses
  • Workforce Centers
  • Unemployment Offices
  • Community Action Agencies
  • Help Lines (and 211 lines)