Making the Case: Why Provide Housing Search Services?
More and more, communities around the country are learning that housing search assistance is an essential component of any strategy to end homelessness - particularly family homelessness. Let's examine why.
Housing Search as a Key Strategy for Ending Homelessness
We have learned a lot about homelessness in recent decades - including who is homeless, why people become homeless, and strategies for helping people out of homelessness. Of course, one thing that has become very clear is that there are different types of homelessness, each caused by a different set of circumstances:
Some individuals or families become homeless after experiencing a crisis. These individuals or families typically do not have a support network on which to rely and, therefore, have difficulty maintaining housing through the crisis. Common causes include job loss, a healthcare emergency (which may lead to job loss or overwhelming medical bills), divorce, domestic abuse, fire, and natural disasters. These individuals are referred to as "situationally" or "temporarily" homeless, which generally means that their state of being without a home is temporary and can be resolved as a specific situation in their life is addressed.
Another subset of individuals is referred to as "periodically" or "episodically" homeless. Individuals in this group tend to have fairly disadvantaged lives, which leaves them at constant risk of becoming homeless. Among individuals in this group, jobs are less stable, housing costs consume a higher percentage of the household budget, and they have little or no financial buffers against emergencies. As a result, this group experiences periodic episodes of homelessness, but generally for short periods of time.
"Chronically" homeless individuals have often spent a great deal of their life on the streets and have many issues that impede their ability to reconnect to their communities, including substance abuse and/or serious mental health problems.
Understanding what causes homelessness is essential to developing effective strategies to end it. While housing is undoubtedly the key, programs are not "one size fits all." Some individuals may only need emergency financial assistance, while others will need an ongoing subsidy and long-term support. Because the need for assistance far exceeds available resources, it is important to match clients with the appropriate level of support. This will ensure that limited slots in transitional and permanent supportive housing are reserved for individuals and families with the most severe barriers.
The Bottom Line
When programs are taxed with high levels of complex needs, case managers end up devoting a majority of their time to the individuals with the most severe barriers. By default, persons who could be quickly moved out of homelessness and re-established in permanent housing are often left to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, without the needed assistance and support, these individuals can have a difficult time getting re-established on their own, inevitably slipping deeper into homelessness.
In contrast, committing the resources to helping these households get re-housed and stabilized not only helps these households, but it can actually save the homeless service system resources over time - resources that can then be re-invested to help additional households.
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- It forces providers to be more deliberate about what they are doing and why.
- It helps prevent unnecessary duplication of services within a continuum.
- It streamlines and simplifies the referral process.
- It allows for easier navigation of system.
- It allows case managers to "specialize" and become experts, which is increasingly important given the complex needs of clients.
Select the Homeless Program Referral Guidelines to review an example.
- Housing Search Assistance Toolkit - Welcome
- Program Start-Up
- Landlord Outreach and Recruitment
- Client Intake and Case Management
- Conducting the Housing Search
- Client Retention and Stabilization