The best results come when case managers have the power to ask, “What is it you need right now to avoid becoming homeless?”
THE most effective way to reduce homelessness is to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. This may sound obvious.
We know intuitively that prevention is the right thing to do. But it has often been easier said than done, and past efforts have been only marginally effective. But now — after a successful three-year pilot project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — we have the evidence about innovative, new prevention efforts that really work.
Called the Domestic Violence Housing First pilot project, we supported front-line service providers and the families they help to test a different way to boost housing stability, health and overall safety of children and adults who lived through domestic violence and abuse.
We found that many of these survivors were precariously close to becoming homeless. So we decided to try something relatively unique: making sure that survivors had what they needed most in order to stay, or get, a safe and secure home. Sometimes they needed help paying rent for a month, installing a lock or making a utility payment. Other times, they needed a bit more help.
This flexible but focused approach showed astounding results:
• Ninety-one percent of those in the pilot program were able to stay in permanent housing for at least 12 months.
• Ninety-six percent of survivors still had housing 18 months after entering the program.
• Seventy-six percent needed only minimal services after 18 months.
The program saved 917 survivors of domestic violence and more than 1,000 children from ending up in shelters or on the street. It gave them a chance to put their energy into keeping their job, getting a degree or even starting a business.
Most important, children in the pilot program have a safe place to call home and can play and learn and be children without the fear of further abuse and without the trauma of homelessness — both of which can have a lifelong impact on brain development.
King County Executive Dow Constantine is taking these results even further with his Youth and Family Homelessness Prevention Strategy. It’s the first program funded by the voter-approved Best Starts for Kids levy and it’s modeled on the Domestic Violence Housing First pilot project.
His proposal aims to invest $19 million to prevent homelessness with these simple principles.
• Housing first: When we focus on keeping people from becoming homeless in the first place, the other issues associated with homelessness are much easier to solve.
• Ask the right question: The best results come when case managers have the power to ask, “What is it you need right now to avoid becoming homeless?”
• Customize financial support: Agencies are better able to help families who are teetering on the brink of homelessness when they are not tied down by rigid bureaucracy. They must have the flexibility to meet individual needs — such as helping with transportation, school supplies, permits for employment or short-term rental assistance.
We read stories daily about more people becoming homeless and it doesn’t seem to be getting better — because once a person becomes homeless, it only gets harder for them to stabilize and obtain a permanent home. But it doesn’t need to get to that stage. Together we found a better way, and Best Starts for Kids enables us to make it available to all families across the county.
The Domestic Violence Housing First model keeps more children, young people and families out of homelessness and allows them to succeed in whatever path they choose in life.
Housing first for domestic-violence survivors saves money. But more important, it saves lives.