King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties are implementing comprehensive family homelessness plans based upon the five principles described above. These plans focus on preventing families from becoming homeless and quickly moving families who do become homeless into permanent housing, paired with the right kind of support to stabilize and thrive.
Building Changes works with its county partners to align public and private efforts toward the work identified in these county plans. It also encourages governments at all levels, service providers, and philanthropic donors to collaborate in developing and disseminating innovative approaches and to help the various systems work in mutually reinforcing ways on behalf of families.
A Tacoma family found stable housing through support from Catholic Community Services.
This includes leveraging dollars already available through the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), Public Housing Authorities and private nonprofit affordable housing providers, workforce development councils, child welfare and domestic violence systems, community colleges, school districts, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and the Affordable Care Act for health care—all funding streams with programs that aid homeless families. Where possible, the counties and their partners are also tapping into new resources.
All three counties receive support for their efforts through Systems Innovation Grants awarded by Building Changes. These grants provide the funding that counties need to address how a countywide system serves homeless families, rather than how one organization or county department serves a targeted population. For example, Building Changes and King County are currently offering capacity-building grants to support organizations across the community that are looking to transform from providing time-limited transitional housing to a rapid re-housing approach that quickly helps families find a permanent home.
Below are a few examples of the progress each county is making.
- Coordinated Entry. King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties have developed coordinated entry systems to integrate local efforts. Each county’s model is uniquely designed to best leverage the individual county’s resources. However, they all built on a shared goal: to create a common way for families to quickly and easily access services. With coordinated entry in place, people experiencing homelessness will not need to call dozens of agencies for help, and service providers can more efficiently people experiencing homelessness will not need to call dozens of agencies for help, and service providers can more efficiently serve clients.
Pierce County was the first to launch a coordinated entry program in early 2011. The early results are encouraging: more families are being quickly stabilized, and the vacancy rate in the county’s available shelter and transitional housing units is close to zero, down from a high of nearly 15 percent.
- Rapid housing placement. Data and evidence show that getting homeless families rapidly back into housing helps them to become self-sufficient more quickly. This approach, called rapid re-housing, is often less expensive than the cost of lengthy shelter or transitional housing stays. Recent research indicates that the vast majority (85 percent or more) of rapidly re-housed families never fall back into homelessness. Rapid re-housing programs often help with housing searches, rental assistance, and tailored support services.
Each county is working to expand rapid re-housing programs to help local families stabilize faster. By reducing reliance on transitional housing, an expensive intervention for providers and counties, communities can generate savings and help more families. Communities can also provide more intensive support and services, such as transitional housing and permanent supportive housing, to a smaller number of families with more complex, intensive support needs.
Learning From The Data
The foundation is supporting a robust evaluation program to track progress in reducing family homelessness. In working with the research company Westat, Inc., as well as Building Changes, each county is dedicated to learning what is working and will measure their success in three ways:
- Families. Using a variety of measures, we will work collectively to determine whether fewer families are becoming homeless. We will also look at families who became homeless and measure whether they stayed in housing longer, received services more quickly, had fewer children enter foster care, and increased their incomes.
- Organizational Changes. Working with service providers, we will examine whether families were provided with services more effectively and efficiently.
- Systems Changes. We will look into how different systems worked together to improve collaborative efforts to serve homeless families.
Every year, we will have better data available to help us understand the complexities of family homelessness, and design the best possible responses that can help us prevent or rapidly respond to families at risk of or experiencing homelessness. The lessons we learn inform work across the state, so that in the future, communities can provide every family the opportunity to live up to its potential and no child lacks a safe place to call home.