Getting Housed, Staying Housed, Chicago IL

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Best Practice | August 11, 2006

The following profile is adapted from "Getting Housed, Staying Housed. A Collaborative Plan To End Homelessness," endorsed by Mayor Richard H. Daley on January 21, 2003

For those families and individuals who are already homeless or for whom homelessness cannot be prevented, the Chicago Continuum of Care is transitioning to a system-wide Housing First strategy. This approach seeks to assist persons to exit homelessness as quickly as possible by placing them in permanent housing and linking them to needed services. This approach assumes that the factors that have contributed to a household's homelessness can best be remedied once the household is housed. It also accepts that for some lifelong support may be required to prevent the reoccurrence of homelessness. The plan seeks to maximize utilization of mainstream resources.

But for most, the model will promote long-term self sufficiency through a wraparound service philosophy. Wraparound services refer to a comprehensive service provision model that guarantees that any and all services needed by an individual or family are integrated through a cohesive, individualized service plan that guides all service provision. Chicago's Continuum will infuse this service approach across all components of its homeless service delivery system -- prevention, interim housing, and permanent housing.

The system-wide Housing First strategy has required a fundamental shift in the city's shelter strategy, away from its current tiered system of care to an Interim Housing model in which short-term housing is provided for the minimum time needed to access permanent housing, with services focused on an immediate and comprehensive needs assessment, resource acquisition (i.e., public benefits and other forms of assistance), and housing placement.

Over the next five years, Chicago's Continuum plans to undertake three efforts simultaneously in pursuit of its new Housing First approach. It plans to expand the availability of affordable permanent housing; increase its accessibility; and transition the existing tiered shelter system into a Housing First system.

To expand the availability of affordable permanent housing, the city will:

  • Create new project-based permanent supportive housing units for persons with serious and persistent disabilities.
  • Expand permanent supportive housing subsidies for persons with serious and persistent disabilities who can live independently in market rate housing with appropriate supportive services.
  • Develop additional engagement housing, such as safe havens and harm reduction programs for those who need permanent housing, but are resistant to traditional service models.
  • Expand transitional rent subsidies for households who can be placed in community-based permanent housing with integrated services, in which the tenant holds the lease or assumes the lease over the period of the transitional subsidy.
  • Develop and increase the availability of appropriate Housing First models of permanent housing for youth who are homeless.

To increase the accessibility of affordable permanent housing, the city will:

  • Develop an affordable housing clearinghouse that will be used to link households in interim housing with appropriate market housing.
  • Expand and increase coordination of street outreach for persons who are homeless and not requesting services to provide assessment and linkage to engagement housing and permanent supportive housing.

To transition the existing shelter system to a Housing First system, the city will:

  • Develop standards for Interim Housing and permanent housing models that promote housing placement in the most suitable, least restrictive settings possible.
  • Use local public funding to encourage, and eventually mandate, existing shelter programs to convert to the new Housing First model.

As part of the support for the planned activities of each of the initiatives, the city will implement a homeless information management system with information and referral, case management, and benefits screening functionality to collect information about the people who become homeless, improve the effectiveness of service delivery, and understand the relationships between service utilization and client outcomes over time. The affordable housing clearinghouse will also be seamlessly linked with the homeless information management system.

Under the Getting Housed, Staying Housed model, current agencies in Chicago's homeless service system will need to redefine how services should be provided and how, as service providers, they will evolve. Some existing shelter providers may choose to shift their shelter program model to the new interim housing model by offering short-term residential care with "Housing First"-oriented services, such as comprehensive needs and resource assessment, permanent housing placement and community service linkage. Others may move away from residential programs and provide permanent community-based supportive services, and still others may shift their operations to provide permanent supportive housing. This housing and service system shift will be challenging -- it will require agency and program-level reorganization, Board and staff training, and deliberate system-level change management. It will also require significant systems integration efforts to coordinate and network services at all levels -- client, agency, neighborhood and system.