Monday, June 20, 2016

Building Dallas’ Homeless Response System - A Glossary of Basic Terms[i]

Homeless and Chronically Homeless
The Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act of 2009, generally defines an individual or family as homeless if that individual/family, “lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence,” or “has a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation,” or lives, “in a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements (including hotels and motels paid for by Federal, State or local government programs for low-income individuals or by charitable organizations, congregate shelters, and transitional housing)…” The same act generally defines[i] a homeless individual or family as chronically homeless if that individual/family, “has been homeless… continuously for at least 1 year or on at least 4 separate occasions in the last 3 years,” and that individual or family’s head of household has a disability.

Emergency Shelter
The modern fight against homelessness can be traced to the landmark McKinney-Vento Act of 1987. The focus at the time was on responding to homelessness as a short term crisis through the use of emergency shelters. Today, the ideal shelter is oriented towards housing, and serves a vital, quite distinct role from the role envisioned in 1987. They provide temporary shelter, with the constant expectation that they move their clients into housing as soon as possible.

Housing First vs. Treatment First/Housing Readiness
In the Treatment First/Housing Readiness approach (which was prevalent in the 1990s and early 2000s) the focus is on managing homelessness, linearly and methodically making people “housing ready” and only then permanently housing them. This approach usually requires the attainment of milestones prior to a person being provided permanent housing (e.g. taking classes, saving a certain amount of money, maintaining sobriety, finding employment). Housing First, a robust, evidence based alternative to housing readiness emerged in the early 2000s. This approach argues that homelessness is a housing crisis, that everyone is housing ready, and that homelessness is best solved by the provision of housing, with supports and services tailored to the needs and preferences of persons experiencing homelessness. This approach usually requires only two conditions: Clients abide by the terms of their leases, and meet with their case managers on a regular basis. Due to the fact, that Housing First works for 85% of clients and above, the consensus of scholars (and hence) the policy of the Federal Government, is that all programs should follow this method.

Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH)
Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) is a nationally recognized, proven and cost-effective solution to the needs of vulnerable people with disabilities who are homeless, institutionalized, or at greatest risk of these conditions. The PSH approach integrates permanent, affordable rental housing with the best practice community-based supportive services needed to help people who are homeless and/or have serious and long-term disabilities - such as mental illnesses, developmental disabilities, physical disabilities, substance use disorders, and chronic health conditions - access and maintain stable housing in the community[ii].

Rapid Rehousing (RRH)
This model first gained prominence during the Great Recession. Non-chronically homeless individuals are quickly housed, and offered intense wrap around services for a limited time, so they can get back on their feet and move on in 90-180 days.

Transitional Housing (TH)
The HEARTH Act of 2009 defines this as, “Housing the purpose of which is to facilitate the movement of individuals and families experiencing homelessness to permanent housing within 24 months…” These more traditional programs have historically followed the Treatment First/Housing Readiness approach. The Federal Government has encouraged communities to gradually move away from these programs due their lower success rate and higher cost, in comparison to PSH and RRH.

Continuum of Care(CoC)
A Continuum of Care (CoC) is a geographically based group of representatives that carries out the planning responsibilities [related to housing programs and services for the homeless, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD]… These representatives come from organizations that provide services to persons experiencing homelessness, or represent the interests of the homeless or formerly homeless.” (HEARTH Act Interim Rule, page 45423) The CoC is required to designate a collaborative applicant to apply to HUD for CoC funding on behalf of all of the local applicants as well as designate a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) administrator. The local CoC (for Dallas and Collin Counties) has designated the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA) as the collaborative applicant and HMIS administrator.

Homeless Management Information System (HMIS)
The HEARTH Act mandates that federally funded homeless service providers (CoC programs and others) report on their performance through a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), to track performance and drive improvement of each individual program and the community as a whole.

Homeless Response Systems
The HEARTH Act of 2009, imbued CoCs with an enhanced role. It envisioned CoCs and their lead agencies creating comprehensive homeless response systems that, using a Housing First approach, would efficiently and effectively, coordinate and deliver evidence based solutions that would prevent and end homelessness. The HEARTH Act tasked the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), an independent federal agency, which brings together 19 different federal entities, with writing a national strategic plan to end homelessness. The plan titled “Opening Doors” was presented to the President and Congress in 2010, and has been updated and revised a number of times, most recently in June 2015. The revised Opening Doors plan calls for retooling the homeless response system, by transforming homeless services into crisis response systems that prevent homelessness and rapidly return people who experience homelessness to stable housing.
[i] Many parts of this glossary draw their language from Opening Doors, as amended in 2015. See

1 comment:

  1. Great post, very necessary. Thank you. I'd love to see Community First added to the housing section with Housing First, etc. Posted informationally only of course, not as an implicit endorsement.