Diversion Successes and Challenges in the Hartford and Central CANs

Contributed by: 
Matthew Morgan
Executive Director – Journey Home

In order to solve the issue of homelessness, we must stop people from becoming homeless in the first place. We have found over the past four years that it is possible to find other options for those looking to enter into emergency shelter or looking at the option of sleeping on the streets. This activity is called “shelter diversion”.

Four years ago, the Greater Hartford Coordinated Access Network (CAN) and the Central Connecticut CAN (Greater New Britain/Bristol area) began putting into practice diversion programs, which have helped families steady themselves, reunite with friends or family, or move into their own apartments, rather than turning to emergency shelter for help. Shelter diversion is not something people can learn overnight, but rather it is a detailed strategy that prevents homelessness before it starts by helping people find quick alternative housing arrangements, as well as connecting them with services and financial assistance to help them get back to permanent housing. Shelter diversion is a strategy that uses skills such as active listening, strengths exploration, and motivation from both the client and the diversion specialist. After attending a diversion appointment, the goal is that clients will be leaving with a better understanding of how they are now going to move forward out of their current situation, preventing them from moving down the path of emergency shelter or having to sleep outside, and moving them toward a more stable and secure option.

In the first year, the Greater Hartford CAN diverted 21% of all people seeking shelter and Central CAN diverted 12% of all people seeking shelter. Over the next four years, the agencies providing diversion programming have invested more into the programming with supports and professional services for staff, providing them with numerous trainings, increasing salaries, expanding the number of staff working on diversion, and helping staff to become experts at diversion services.

Now in 2019, due to all the investments into diversion supports, Greater Hartford CAN has increased the diversion rate to 46% of all people seeking shelter, and Central CAN has increased the diversion rate to 55%, the highest rate in the state! While homelessness is a complex social problem with numerous root causes, homelessness prevention is a real possibility for many families, thanks to the diversion programming in our communities!

If we are going to ensure that we continue to make progress towards ending homelessness, we must continue to increase investment in more diversion programming. Over the past six months, when diversion agencies were short-staffed, we were unable to meet the needs of everyone seeking diversion services at the pace we needed to. We must have sufficient staff to cover the demand for diversion, even when staff are out on vacation, sick, or when staff leave for other opportunities. The more people we can divert from becoming homeless, the more time we will have to help people who are already homeless find housing solutions.