Shifting Gears: Options for Transitional Housing

Opportunity to re-think transitional housing

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The HEARTH Act, the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, and a large infusion of funding for Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing activities have created a unique opportunity of communities to re-evaluate the structure of their homeless system. A shifting focus towards ending homelessness and new data on the effects and needs of homeless households have left many wondering where transitional housing fits into community efforts.  Congress and HUD are challenging communities to re-think the way services are provided and move towards supporting a system that generates successful outcomes.  The National Conference to End Homelessness 2011 has featured several sessions highlighting communities that have successfully made this transition.

Lancaster, PA 

Through in depth evaluation of program data, Lancaster County quickly realized they had a system with multiple barriers in which only 35% of those entering transitional housing successfully graduated from their programs.  Working closely with funders, donors, and service providers, the county undertook the process of transforming their transitional housing to a client driven system focused on rapid exit.

Through coordinated efforts they have moved to a model in which the average length of stay in transitional housing is 105 days and about 70% of those served exit the program into positive housing situations.  About 90% of those exiting to permanent housing move into market rate units without rent subsidies and 88% of those housed remain stably housed for 12 months.

The 4 key components in successfully transforming the transitional housing system include:

  1. Shift from a ‘housing readiness’ mindset to a ‘rapid exit’ philosophy
  2. A shift from focusing on what must be done to stay in transitional housing to focusing on what must be done to successfully exit transitional housing
  3. Shift to first developing a housing plan and second identifying the wrap around services within the community
  4. A complete redefinition of what transitional programs are and how they do business.

Through successfully transforming their system, Lancaster has increased community collaboration, decreased the length of time people remain homeless and increased the number of successful outcomes for homeless households.

There are multiple options communities have in re-defining their transitional housing system.  These options include:

  1. Transition in Place models
  2. Interim Housing models
  3. Rapid Re-housing models
  4. Emergency shelter models

In all, it is important for communities to have a full array of options available to homeless households for as we know, one-size does not fit all.