Norm Suchar speaks at NAEH panel
credit: Dottie Kramer

What works for some people, won’t work for others. Through a lot of repetition, this concept became increasingly clear at The National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) 2015 conference, held in the District of Columbia July 15-17. Attendees from 47 states brought a range of experience and approaches to solving homelessness. Actor Richard Gere gave a keynote speech that mentioned his upcoming movie “Time Out of Mind,” a story about a homeless man attempting to reconcile with his estranged daughter.
Mayor Muriel Bowser encouraged conference attendees to talk to Congress while in D.C. Thursday’s events concluded with preparatory meetings regarding the lobbying efforts that were to take place the following day.

Mayor Muriel Bowser addresses NAEH at opening

Photo by Reginald Black

There were 98 workshop sessions spanning many different topics. Some of the common threads were that rapid re-housing works to end homelessness; veteran’s homelessness can be ended; and not every plan works everywhere.

Rapid Rehousing Works
Rapid rehousing is the most promising crisis intervention option the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has found nationwide, said National Alliance CEO and President Nan Roman in her opening remarks. Rapid rehousing consists of three basic procedures: find housing, pay for housing, stay in housing. Unique from other housing first models, such as permanent supportive housing or transitional housing, rapid rehousing is time-sensitive and meant to empower clients to find the means to pay rent while reducing the overall time spent in shelters.

Though it’s not perfect and doesn’t end poverty, Roman noted that rapid rehousing does one thing: ends homelessness. Throughout the conference, rapid rehousing was presented as an approach that could end homelessness anywhere. But many working in the field remain skeptical, believing rapid rehousing only works when supported by wrap-around services such as job development, case management, and assistance stabilizing finances.

Nan Roman addressing NAEH at opening

Photo by Dottie Kramer

“People who say [rapid rehousing] is a blanket solution simply don’t understand rapid rehousing. They don’t understand the continuum of care,” said Jean-Michel Giraud, Chief Executive Officer at Friendship Place, a D.C.-based service provider that describes itself as finding person-focused solutions to homelessness. “[Rapid rehousing]’s not for everybody. It’s for people who are rebuilding.”

According to Giraud, rapid rehousing works best for individuals and families who can secure an income in a matter of weeks that will allow them to be self-sustaining long-term. For those who cannot, rapid rehousing may not be the best solution, as there are outstanding concerns regarding its short, expiring time limits.

In order to best serve as many people as possible through rapid rehousing, Friendship Place spends a lot of its time working to find employment for its clients. That way, they are better prepared to pay for housing when the subsidy runs out.

In the NAEH conference panel Make It Work: Linking Rapid Rehousing and Employment, Jermain Hampton, AimHire Director at Friendship Place, an organization that provides services to people in our area who are without homes, asked who in the audience had job developers in their programs. Only four people in a room exceeding 100 service providers raised their hands.

Employment assistance is absolutely necessary in addition to rapid rehousing services, according to Hampton. Without it, most idividuals don’t qualify for rapid rehousing because, in order to qualify, people must demonstrate their ability to pay rental costs following rapid rehousing assistance.

However, Giraud said rapid rehousing cannot be discredited, as it has housed many and progresses the conversation around what services work best in making homelessness rare and brief.

“If you put someone in permanent supportive housing who just needs rapid, then you’ve over-served and under-empowered them. You’ve taken away their ability to begin to become self-sufficient,” Giraud said.

Friendship Place’s AimHire program, which helps people who are homeless and unemployed find jobs and housing at the same time, has seen over 250 graduates—most of whom came in with zero income.

Friendship Place

Photo courtesy of Friendship Place

According to a HUD report published in 2013, 87 percent of families had not returned to shelter after two years of rapid rehousing assistance.

However, opponents of rapid rehousing argue that this study does not represent whether or not families are having to double up or couch surf when subsidies run dry — it only shows that they have not retrieved back into the shelter system.

When service providers integrate employment into the effort to obtain housing, as Friendship Place has, they’re able to track clients from a retention standpoint and check in on the stability of their housing.

While rapid rehousing remains a promising and integral takeaway from NAEH 2015, panelists cautioned service providers to remain flexible in how they choose to serve diverse populations in diverse settings. Friendship Place’s employment-centric model is one example of successful adaptation.

Veteran’s Homelessness Can be Ended
During a workshop on Rapidly Re-Housing Veterans, Jonathan Castillo representing PATH in Los Angeles, CA, Teresa Grenawalt representing Community Catalysts of California in San Diego, CA, and Gary Grier representing the Coalition for the Homeless of Huston/Harris County in Huston, TX discussed their successes in rapidly re-housing veterans through Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF).

The topic of veteran homelessness was also discussed in regards to connecting veterans to mainstream services that can aid the already homeless, or help prevent the at-risk population from reaching a state of homelessness. During the Connecting Homeless Veterans to Mainstream Services workshop, audience members described programs in place in their own communities that aid homeless veterans beyond the most common federal programs.

The overall message of the day in regards to veteran homelessness was that great progress has already been made, and the various goals of initiatives to end veteran homelessness will be met in the coming years.

Not Every Plan Works Everywhere
Youth homelessness was one of the more prevalent topic at this year’s conference. Until recently; most organizations did not even account for independent young people.

Youth have a certain set of needs that greatly differ from the needs of single adults and families. The Host Home program provided by Minneapolis-based Avenues Homeless Youth strives to meet these needs by providing shelter and food through volunteers for up to a year.

The program is a unique alternative to foster care in that the youth get to choose the host family that seems like the best fit for them.

Program director Ryan Berg works tirelessly to connect youth to volunteers in this transitional housing program.

In order for youth to participate in Host Homes, they must be referred to the program by an outside case manager who retains case management for the youth throughout the year. The most important thing for youth is stability, according to Berg.

The hosts must go through an application/interview process and training in order to become hosts. Even upon completion, some people aren’t chosen.

“Our program philosophy is one of solidarity, not charity,” Berg said, “We aren’t looking for saints or saviors.”

Laura Zellinger speaking

Photo by Dottie Kramer

Vendors Reginald Black and Robert Warren also attended the NAEH 2015 conference. Click here to read Reggie’s take on The Progress Thus Far.