The Minnesota Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program

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Best Practice | August 11, 2006

Minnesota's Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program (FHPAP) is facilitating the end of homelessness by providing state funds, including TANF block grant dollars, that can be used innovatively by counties and community nonprofit organizations to help families remain in their homes, re-house those who become homeless and shorten the length of time families spend in shelters. Last year, the Illinois State Legislature established a Family Homeless Prevention and

 

History and Background

 

Created in 1993 by the Minnesota State Legislature, the Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program is designed to achieve three primary goals:

  • prevent homelessness from occurring
  • shorten lengths of time in homelessness and emergency shelters
  • prevent repeated episodes of homelessness

 

The program provides grants to local communities to achieve the goals of the legislation. The funds are very flexible and use of funds is determined at the local level by an advisory group. The application process for grant funds is competitive and grantees must reapply every biennium. The program requires grantees report outcome data and future funding decisions are determined based on performance.

The program originated after Hennepin County administrators successfully heightened public awareness that the county's existing emergency shelter system would not be able to meet the demand and, as a result, families would soon be turned away from shelters. The Governor was committed to responding to the need and the Administration developed a policy proposal. Rather than building more shelters to meet the demand they decided to take action to reduce demand--by preventing homelessness, facilitating people's re-entry to and stabilization in housing.

In advocating to attend to the "back door" and "front door" of homelessness versus building more shelters to accommodate the demand, Marge Wherley of the Hennepin County Adult Housing Program utilized graphs that clearly demonstrating the imminent crisis. She also stressed that enough homeless shelters could not be built in time to meet the pending demand, particularly due to opposition to siting homeless shelters that occurs in many communities. Further, administrators were aware the cost of serving a family in a shelter is more expensive than helping a family stay housed and viewed as better for the family's overall well-being.

In developing the state policy, a collaboration of private non-profit agencies used focus groups with families who experienced homelessness to identify the reasons they became homeless, what might have prevented them from losing their housing and what were the barriers they encountered in becoming rehoused to shape the legislation. The Republican Governor's proposal received strong bipartisan support and passed easily. The legislation allows for a great deal of local flexibility in determining the use of funds and stresses tracking outcomes.

While the legislation was being considered, advocates expressed concern over the extent of local flexibility. Ultimately local control prevailed and the program as it is currently designed appears universally popular. It has received increased appropriations every year since it was created, with continued bipartisan support.


Program Description


Funding for the program is awarded on a competitive basis to counties or community nonprofit organizations. Grantees are required to establish a local advisory group responsible for the local initiative, including designing the program, developing eligibility criteria, problem-solving throughout implementation, identifying sub-contractors and submitting biennial reports. Local advisory groups are advised to meet monthly and are expected to be active in their community's Continuum of Care efforts.

A dedicated staff person in the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency is responsible for reviewing funding applications, program reports and provision of technical assistance. State leadership in developing and promoting the "culture" of the program--to end, not manage homelessness--is viewed as a critical component.

Perhaps contributing to the success of the program and grantees' adherence to meeting the purposes of the legislation is the involvement of the state Interagency Task Force on Homelessness (ITF). Each local advisory group must include a member of the ITF, which consists of representatives from nine other state agencies. Each Interagency Taskforce member is assigned to a grantee advisory group and attends the grantee's meetings as representatives of the ITF. The state ITF also meets monthly as a group and reports on what is occurring at the local level.

Grantees must reapply every biennium. Applications are reviewed by a state advisory committee that makes recommendations on level of funding for applicants based on their performance on outcome measures. Funding is very limited, which forces the advisory committee to target the dollars and limit the amount of assistance to promote the program's effectiveness. Outcomes are stressed not outputs or numbers served. This requires tracking individuals and families served to capture future incidents of homelessness or sustained housing stability. The grant application process and outcome data requirements are viewed as helping direct local activities toward achieving the purposes of the legislation.

Currently there are fourteen grantees representing one half of all the counties in Minnesota. The program relied on state general funds until 2000 when dedicated TANF block grant dollars were added, creating more funding and a new level of complexity with federal reporting and eligibility requirements. $6.5 million has been budgeted for the next biennium, and an additional $4.6 million is being sought by the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless to expand services to new parts of the state and increase capacity with existing grantees.


Legislation and State Advocacy Efforts


Legislation for the Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program can be reviewed online through the Office of Revisor of Statutes, State of Minnesota

Updates on relevant advocacy activities can be found on the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless website

 

Examples of Program Best Practices at the Local Level

  • Anoka County Rivercity Housing Collaborative, Anoka County
  • Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, Crow Wing, Morrison, & Todd County
  • Hennepin County Homelessness Prevention Programs, Hennepin County
  • Lakes & Pines County Community Action Council, Lakes & Pines County
  • Rapid Exit Program, Hennepin County

 

Impressions of Program Administrators/Advocates

  • The advisory committees are perceived to be particularly effective in solving problems and opening dialogue around homelessness in the community. Advisory groups are typically comprised of a broad spectrum of the community--including advocates for the homeless, homeless or formally homeless people, housing developers, representatives of the local public housing authority and employers. Local advisory groups have become active on homelessness issues beyond the administration and oversight of the local Family Homelessness Prevention and Assistance Program and have advocated for local policy changes and better utilization of locally controlled resources to respond to the needs of homeless people.
  • Local flexibility is viewed as a vital component in a large geographically diverse state and diverse counties. It allows for a range of responses appropriate to the particular community and experiments with small "pilot" projects that may prove effective.
  • Administrators recognize the importance of developing strong relationships with landlords to prevent homelessness and re-house families. Some programs dedicate staff to respond to landlord concerns and work with landlords and tenants to address issues that may threaten housing stability. If necessary, local programs may assist in paying for damages by tenants placed into housing that exceed the security deposit.
  • Preventing homelessness has become the priority for many administrators. The state's shortage of affordable housing and high rents make rehousing families difficult and they have decided those with affordable, sustainable housing should receive the necessary assistance to retain it through a short-term crisis. Further, the flexibility of the FHPAP funds have facilitated the development of prevention efforts that was reported by some grantees as too difficult to accomplish with HUD funding restrictions.
  • The program is administered by a dedicated staff person at the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. The administration of the program is described to be staff intense, particularly in the early stages. There is a need to provide technical assistance that may include helping to develop strong advisory boards and a group culture that will help achieve the purposes of the legislation.
  • FHPAP is an outcome based grant program that places the emphasis on results then process/ numbers served. Numbers served aren't ignored but 'process' is not the emphasis. Grantees have received more funds when they have performed well and some have had funding reduced. This is viewed as an important component carried out both at the state and local level and a key to its success.
  • Rapid rehousing of families and individuals with greater challenges may require more flexibility in providing follow-up support and case management than six months of after care that HUD allows for those who can no longer be classified as "homeless." Flexibility to provide follow-up assistance for those rapidly re-housed would remain cheaper than allowing those with significant challenges to remain in transitional housing.
  • There may be benefit to increasing collaboration between HUD and HHS to partner on the federal level to facilitate collaboration during the Continuum of Care planning process to better partner housing with services. This would meet both agencies goals as HUD wants to work toward more bricks and mortar yet requires services for some programs and housing is needed for any one to stabilize sufficiently to benefit from services. 

 

Potential Concerns

  • Local flexibility --As program design occurs at the local level, advocates may be concerned with issues around the use of funds and eligibility criteria. For example, some advisory groups have elected not to serve families who have been sanctioned from TANF. The program administrator in one such community reported that they provide assistance to families to help reconcile their sanctions first so they can become eligible for assistance. In this community, the family's resources are enhanced as a result of reconciling the sanction that should increase the likelihood of future housing stability. Without assistance to reconcile sanctions, many families in need of assistance would simply be excluded from yet another source of assistance. This would be particularly troubling as we are aware that many families who have been sanctioned experience significant barriers to achieving self-sufficiency, such as mental health and substance abuse disabilities, domestic violence and low educational attainment.
  • Coordination with Emergency Assistance Funds -- Like many other states, Minnesota has continued to approve Emergency Assistance funds under its state TANF block grant plan. Emergency Assistance funds can be used to provide assistance to families at risk of homelessness and are accessed through the local Division of Human Services. For communities interested in establishing a Family Homelessness Prevention and Assistance Program, coordination at the state and local level with the administrators of the existing Emergency Assistance program will enhance effectiveness. Further care may be required to ensure the creation of a FHPAP program serves to enhance measures to prevent homelessness rather than supplanting them by ensuring both FHPAP and Emergency Assistance funds are maximized.

 

Contact Info

Jamey Burden
Minnesota Housing Finance Agency
400 Sibley Street, Suite 300
St. Paul, MN 55101

Telephone: 651.296.9839
TTY: 651.297.2361
Toll free: 1.800.657.3769
Facsimile: 651.296.9545
E-Mail: jamey.burden@state.mn.us
http://www.mhfa.state.mn.us/


Cherie Shoquist
Minnesota Housing Finance Agency
400 Sibley Street, Suite 300
St. Paul, MN 55101

Telephone: 651-297-3120
TTY: 651-297-2361
Toll free: 1-800-657-3769
Facsimile: 651-296-8139
E-Mail: Cherie.Shoquist@state.mn.us
http://www.mhfa.state.mn.us/


Michael Dahl
Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless
122 West Franklin Avenue, Suite 306
Minneapolis, MN 55404

(612) 870-7073