Best Practices in “How Much is Enough?”
Lisa Tepper Bates, Executive Director
This was the three-word device offered by the Melanie Zamora, Director of Housing Programs at the Road Home, to remember the elements needed to make rapid re-housing (RRH) a success, and to consider the question of “how much is enough?” Melanie was joined in the panel discussion by Meghann Cotter, Executive Director of Micah Ecumenical Ministries, and Tina Patterson, CEO of Homefull.
All three panelists stressed that successful RRH requires working from a strengths-based approach, and carefully tailoring services to each client’s needs. Applying “just enough” in each case means that available resources can be stretched further to help more people in need of housing assistance.
The first critical element to successful RRH is helping clients FIND housing. All panelists stressed that this is the first area where careful calibration of resources is important. Many clients have plans or options regarding where and how they can secure housing. It’s important to start here, rather than assuming that each client will need a maximal amount of support to identify a housing option. Reserve the most intensive resources to support those clients who need more help in identifying housing. All the panelists agreed that there is no one housing option that will suit all clients: some clients will want and can maintain single-occupancy housing, while others will opt for shared housing or a boarding-house style of housing. A non-judgmental and flexible approach is key, they agreed.
A critical question in RRH assistance centers on the question of PAY: “how much rent subsidy, and for how long?” The Road Home (Salt Lake City) employs progressive engagement: there is no decision up-front about subsidy length: every client starts with a short-time frame of rental assistance, re-upping only as each situation warrants. The majority of families in the Road Home’s RRH program achieve self-sufficiency in about four months. What level of rent can a client ultimately afford? Melanie recommended the Honest Monthly Budget worksheet, developed by Iain DeJong of OrgCode Consulting. Working with clients who have exited RRH but have difficulties staying current with rent? Meghan Cotter advised working through the challenge with clients by asking the client to identify a plan, and proposing they seek additional resources in the community – outside of the RRH program. Melanie added that The Road Home only extends a new rent subsidy if “but for this assistance,” the household would lapse again into homelessness.
All the panelists concurred that to help clients to stabilize and STAY in their housing, the most critical element is connection to community supports outside of the homeless assistance system. Benefits including food assistance, health insurance, cash benefits (including disability), and other community services (like employment services) are critical. Homeless providers cannot and should not provide all supports, they said. Helping our RRH clients succeed means focusing on connecting them to these other services and supports.