The HEARTH (Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing) Act, enacted into law in 2009, redefined the national approach to homelessness, which has in turn influenced state policy. The US and Virginia have moved toward a regional, Housing First approach to homelessness, and FHN has adapted its homeless services system to align with emerging best practices.
A Continuum of Care (CoC) is a regional or local planning body that coordinates housing and services funding for homeless families and individuals. In 1995, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) began to require communities to each submit a single application for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants in order to streamline the funding application process, encourage coordination of housing and service providers on a local level, and promote the development of CoCs (NAEH). In 2014, Virginia required CoCs and Local Planning Groups to each submit a single application for its Virginia Homeless Solutions Program Grant, further solidifying the role of CoCs in the state. FHN’s CoC planning process promotes coordination of local agencies and organizations and encourages a structural and strategic approach to housing and homeless services.
Housing First is an approach to homelessness that centers on first helping individuals and families obtain and sustain permanent housing and then providing services as needed. A central tenet of the Housing First approach is that services to enhance household well-being can be more effective when people are in their own home. Housing is not contingent on compliance with services; instead, participants must comply with a standard lease agreement and are provided with the services and supports that are necessary to help them do so successfully. By providing housing assistance, case management, and supportive services after an individual or family is housed, communities can significantly reduce the time people experience homelessness and prevent further episodes of homelessness (NAEH). The FHN Rapid Re-Housing program is a Housing First program.
Rapid Re-Housing programs offer financial assistance (rent, utilities, deposits, etc.) and/or housing-focused case management to help households obtain permanent housing quickly after they enter homelessness. Most households who experience homelessness today have already lived in independent permanent housing and can generally return and remain stably housed with limited assistance. By helping households return to permanent housing as quickly as possible, communities reduce the length of time people experience homelessness, opening beds for others who need them and reducing the public and personal costs of homelessness (NAEH). FHN’s Rapid Re-Housing program helped 89 households obtain permanent housing in FY14.
Prevention programs offer financial assistance and/or housing-focused case management to help households that are at imminent risk of homelessness preserve their current housing situation. Prevention can reduce the number of people entering homelessness and the demand for shelter beds (NAEH). FHN’s Prevention program helped 66 households maintain their housing in FY14.
Diversion is a strategy that prevents homelessness for people seeking shelter by helping them identify immediate alternate housing arrangements. Communities assist households in finding housing outside of shelter while they receive services to stabilize their housing or help them move into permanent housing. Diversion, like prevention can reduce the number of people entering homelessness and the demand for shelter beds (NAEH).
Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), permanent housing coupled with supportive services offered for as long as needed, is the solution to chronic homelessness. With appropriate supports, permanent housing can serve as a foundation for rehabilitation, therapy, and improved health of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness. PSH is not only successful at ending chronic homelessness, but is often also cost-efficient. People experiencing long-term homelessness often incur significant public costs, through emergency room visits, run-ins with law enforcement, incarceration, and access to existing poverty and homeless programs. A number of cost and case studies have demonstrated that PSH largely or totally offsets these costs while ending homelessness for the individuals served (NAEH). The Rappahannock-Rapidan Region currently has no PSH programs; FHN addresses this need in its ten-year plan to end homelessness.
Affordable Housing is central to the success of Housing First programs and vital for preventing and ending homelessness. Homelessness occurs when people or households are unable to acquire and/or maintain housing they can afford. It is the scarcity of affordable housing in the United States that is behind this inability to acquire or maintain housing (NAEH). FHN recognizes that its long-term approach to homelessness in the region must address affordable housing solutions, and has contracted with the Virginia Housing Development Authority to develop an affordable housing plan for the region.