Rapidly Rehousing Takeaways from NAEH 2017

David Gonzalez Rice, July 2017

It was standing-room-only in the Rapid Rehousing (RRH) sessions at this year’s National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference, with a widely-shared sense of urgency around making more and better use of this key resource.

I was able to attend four of the many sessions focused on Rapid Re-Housing: “Rapid Rehousing 101 for Providers and Community Leaders,” “Ending Family Homelessness: How is it Done?,” “Evaluating Rapid Re-Housing,” “Rapidly Rehousing People with Zero Income.” Two overarching themes stood out across the conversations:

Rapid Rehousing works best with Progressive Engagement

Communities that are bringing Rapid Rehousing to scale and targeting it to those most in need shared key insights about how to structure and implement the intervention effectively. All involved some variation on the Progressive Engagement Model, in which RRH plays an especially important role:

  • Put all the resources in one bucket. Communities from Cleveland to New Orleans to Washington, D.C. described how they treat all the RRH in their system as part of a continuum rather than a menu. Referrals to RRH are driven by client need rather than program fit. NAEH’s Kay Moshier McDivitt summarized this approach: “Rapid Rehousing is not a program, it is an intervention.”

  • Use very light-touch RRH as the first intervention for every qualifying household. Use the VI-SPDAT or other tools to demonstrate need, minimize barriers up front (including income tests), and use frequent case conferencing to determine referrals to more intensive housing supports.

There are many benefits of this approach: It is client-centered rather than program-centered. It keeps the Rapid in Rapid Rehousing: systems can re-house clients more quickly when not waiting for the “right” opportunity or program slot to open up. And, crucially for social workers, the approach respects Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: several providers shared that they appreciate being able to assess a client who has been stabilized in housing, only then referring as needed to more RRH, PSH, or higher levels of care.

Presenters also recognized that it takes significant work behind the scenes to build partnerships and restructure resources so they can work in such a flexible, client-centered way. And a big drawback for consumers is the disruption that comes with frequently changing agencies or case managers. Still, communities that have structured Rapid Rehousing along these lines think the outcomes – more households served, better targeting of resources, and quicker exits from homelessness – make a strong case for the change.

Quality Rapid Rehousing is really hard.

In “Ending Family Homelessness,” HUD’s Norm Suchar walked us through the numbers: Rapid Rehousing is both effective and cost-effective. But providers at the table stressed that keeping it both rapid and available to higher-barrier households requires real effort at the systems and program design levels.

  • Landlord outreach and engagement is a full-time sales job. Samantha Stewart from Supportive Housing Works in Bridgeport, CT described selling her client’s strengths, highlighting the RRH program’s supportive role, and returning to landlords who have said “no” in the past. The skills needed to sell landlords on this opportunity are not necessarily the same as the skills of a good case manager.

  • Positive discharges will not all be to the same kind of housing provided by RRH. Presenters at the “Ending Family Homelessness” and “Rapidly Rehousing People with Zero Income” panels observed that once stabilized in housing, clients may reasonably exit to any number of situations other than a 12-month lease on the private market: from board and care to reunification with family to subsidized housing or single-room occupancy. The use of RRH as an intervention is still critical as the first step to resolving the initial housing crisis, but providers were urged to prepare staff and clients for the likelihood of these sorts of transitions from RRH.

  • Case management is every bit as important as rental assistance: in addition to the direct services case managers provide to tenants in RRH, the model requires frequent assessment and transition planning, with warm handoffs to mainstream services and effective advocacy with PHAs, landlords, and other community partners.