This past semester I’ve been interning at the Walla Walla County Department of Health and Human Services where I focused on developing strategies to align Walla Walla’s many homelessness services with the “Rapid Re-housing model.” We’re still in the preliminary phase of applying the model to Walla Walla, but we’re collaborating with local service providers to figure out which aspects we’re already utilizing and which areas we could improve in. For my readers who may be unfamiliar with the Rapid Re-housing model I’ll give an overview in the clearest terms that I can.
Rapid Re-housing is based on an overall concept called “Housing First” which asserts that instead of trying to deal with every issue keeping a person in poverty, organizations that serve the homeless should focus primarily on getting that person permanently housed. Once a person has the stability of a home, his other issues can be more easily addressed. For instance, someone who is unemployed and homeless will have a much easier time in the job search if he has a permanent address to list on his resume, a place to shower before a job interview, and so on. The Rapid Re-housing model has been in existence for the past decade, but it came to the forefront when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offered grant money for Rapid Re-housing back in 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) early on in the recession. Rapid Re-housing is generally coupled with another strategy called “Targeted Prevention,” but for the purposes of this series I’ll be focusing on the Rapid Re-housing segment.
Overview of the Rapid Re-Housing Model
Whereas historically many social service agencies offered several steps in the process towards housing stability including emergency sheltering, transitional housing—a temporary, sometimes communal living situation with multiple supportive services—and eventually rental subsidies, the Rapid Re-housing model aims to get homeless people into permanent housing as quickly as possible. Whether someone has just arrived at a homeless shelter or is preemptively approaching an agency because she feels that she is about to lose her housing (due to a new health condition, eviction notice, lost job, etc), under Rapid Re-housing, case managers are to immediately identify a suitable route towards stable housing.
Addressing Barriers to Housing
This entails an initial assessment of an individual’s “barriers to housing” which might include lack of employment, substance abuse problems, domestic violence, poor credit history—anything preventing that person or her family from finding and sustaining housing. Once these issues are identified, case managers make plans to mitigate them in order to secure housing. First, this usually means providing a temporary subsidy towards an individual’s or a family’s rent to secure their housing. It might also mean subsequently assisting in a job search, connecting someone with substance abuse treatment or obtaining a restraining order on a violent family member, for example. However, the focus of each of these actions is preventing a loss of housing, not on solving a family’s poverty overall. For instance, service providers will connect someone with substance abuse treatment if it means that landlords will be more willing to rent to that person. Likewise, service providers will help an individual find a job if it means that she will then have a high enough income to pay her rent. It is important to note that under the Rapid Re-housing model these additional services are obtained voluntarily; the homeless individual decides which services are most necessary to find and maintain housing.
In general use of the Rapid Re-housing model means shifting funds and efforts away from transitional housing and even long-term sheltering in favor of obtaining stable, permanent housing for as many clients as possible. While federal grant money specifically allocated for Rapid Re-housing efforts expired in 2012, cities and towns across the nation continue to utilize the framework to address homelessness in their areas and as we will see, they achieve widely varying degrees of success. Check back in a couple days for Part II: Assessing New York City’s Surprising Results.