Housing the Homeless: What works, what doesn't?
December 3, 2017 6:03 PM   Subscribe

The title says it all - we're a community of about 300,000 with a massive influx of homeless from surrounding communities. We want to make things better for as many people as possible.

I have the honor of working with a group who are trying to address homelessness in our mid-sized city (about 350,000 in the immediate metro; closer to a million if you add the many small suburbs). I am tasked with researching housing initiatives in similar cities - what has worked, what hasn't, what has been tried and what hasn't, and so on.

Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, I am reaching out to those who have experience with similar issues in your own communities. We are considering a "housing only" approach - but we want to know what the rest of the country is up to. Anyone?
posted by Mishi to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Housing First (link includes references to studies about efficacy).
posted by praemunire at 6:11 PM on December 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

I mostly have worked with libraries who serve populations of people experiencing homelessness. Here are a few programs that may be useful.

- Not sure what the status is of SLC's 24/7 library program but I could put you in touch with the library director there.
- SFPL actually hired a social worker to help their homeless populations and do specific programming for their homeless teen populations
- some stuff going on in Toronto centered around the library and the city services.
posted by jessamyn at 6:21 PM on December 3, 2017 [7 favorites]

180SantaCruz is working well here, and could be a useful model for you.
posted by anadem at 6:55 PM on December 3, 2017

My wife does this for a living, providing technical support to communities working to end homelessness. She helps them understand and implement HUD initiatives.

It is complicated, and requires the interaction of multiple organizations, including non-profit and for-profit housing providers, shelters, and service providers that help support people dealing with poverty, substance abuse, mental health issues, domestic violence, and PTSD. Many people need help maintaining housing as much as they need help finding housing. Many landlords will only accept certain tenants if they know that service providers will be supporting those tenants to remain stable.

Communities and regions have a "Continuum of Care" formed by these organizations working together to end homelessness in their area. The link provides a lot of information about CoC's, but my impression is that they are formed by groups of established organizations. It would be daunting (at least to me) to try to start something like this from scratch.

You say that you are part of a group that is trying to address homelessness. Is this a group of individuals, a group of non-profit organizations? I'm assuming you're in the United States. Are your groups part of the local CoC or are you in touch with them? If you can share your location (by me-mail if you prefer) I can try to find some more information or references for you.

It's great your doing this. Stable housing is the start of everything else about a stable life. Without stable housing it's to get a handle on any of life's other problems.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:15 PM on December 3, 2017 [6 favorites]

I can't speak to how the community I am in addresses homelessness, with one exception: for veterans. I am making an assumption that some number of your homeless people are going to be veterans and know there are resources available for them. It would help your community to make contact with the local organization that administers Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grant and VA's Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program; they work with homeless and at risk of homelessness vets to get them stable housing.

On the left coast there is Veterans Resource Centers, which from our local branch I can vouch does really great work. You can get an idea of the types of things they do from their website.

This is a great thing you are doing and I wish you and the team of people you're working with very well.
posted by faineant at 8:59 PM on December 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

I concur with Housing First.
posted by bendy at 9:02 PM on December 3, 2017

A former classmate of mine works for Community Solutions, which I believe does a lot of consulting in this area, especially with Housing First.
posted by telegraph at 4:04 AM on December 4, 2017

We are considering a "housing only" approach

The issue with "housing only" is, what happens when people are struggling, or fail out of the housing? Spending a lot of time and money getting people housed, only to have them be evicted, ends up worse for everyone (you, because it's wasted time and money, and because now landlords are going to assume you're placing problem tenants and will be less likely to rent to you; them, because now they have a new eviction on their record). If you're looking at building or funding shelters, you may not be dealing with evictions but there are all sorts of interpersonal problems that come up for and between residents in shelters, and providing support, training, and resources for resolving immediate problems, as well as for creating long-term skills for independent living, is important; otherwise the shelter becomes unsafe.

As others have said, make sure you're working with community partners as much as you can, too. You don't have to reinvent the wheel on supportive services, either.
posted by lazuli at 9:50 AM on December 4, 2017

The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness has a wealth of resources, including Housing First resources, toolkits, etc.
posted by haunted_pomegranate at 11:59 AM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Homeless Hub (and FB page) is a good resource for understanding homelessness across Canada, what's happening in various communities, some root causes, research, creative solutions, etc. If you're not in Canada, it may still be helpful for gathering ideas.

It's been noted above, but there are so many issues tied up in housing - from the cost of living in a particular city (beyond the cost of housing itself), the resources a community has/lacks for big issues like mental illness and addictions, social supports, what jobs exist, etc. It can come down to the type of housing available - people will turn down opportunities to be housed if it doesn't fit their needs/wants. My suggestion would be to gather as much info as you can about your community's particular issues/gaps - by asking people who are experiencing homelessness - so you can figure out what work needs to be done.
posted by VioletU at 7:50 AM on December 6, 2017

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