The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) one-size-fits-all solution for ending homelessness is designed to get the homeless quickly into, then out of an emergency shelter and into subsidized housing. This philosophy and model is known as Housing First, and is also applied as Rapid Rehousing and Permanent Supportive Housing. Its measure of success—being housed—is a seemingly simple solution to a persistent and complex problem.
The Housing First model does not require clients to receive services that address their sobriety, employment, or mental health. Rehousing is often scattered in rental units across the community, wherever landlords accept persons with housing barriers such as poor financial histories, criminal backgrounds, addictions, and evictions. The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness describes some challenges of Rapid Rehousing in this way. “…although rapid re-housing participants generally must pay market rate rent following the end of a short-term rental subsidy, they often face significant barriers to employment and have experienced chronic unemployment, which can make it difficult to maintain housing after their rental subsidy ends.”
For the past eight years, the Brisben Center attempted to apply the prescribed Housing First model to its operations. The center labored to serve as a Low Barrier shelter. It faithfully provided refuge for thousands with the end goal of rapidly discharging clients into subsidized housing. Client accountability was minimally applied. Testing for sobriety was discontinued. Results were measured by the number of clients served and bed-nights, these providing only a partial measure of ending homelessness. Nevertheless, the Brisben Center endeavored to meet the HUD, state and locally prescribed role for the center, even as
funds from these sources were consistently directed to Housing First. Unfortunately, the only option for 90 percent of households departing the Brisben Center was unsustainable housing. Merely one percent were Rapidly Rehoused. To this day, nearly 50 percent return to shelter—some several times within two to three years. Sadly, many are children. The human and
financial costs of repeating the cycle of homelessness are tragic, and we witness them continuing across generations. These results are alarming, unacceptable, and financially unsustainable.
To this end, the Brisben Center applied thirty-three years of experience, sought input from multidisciplinary experts, and scoured internal and external data to arrive at some stunning conclusions. Low Barrier Shelter, short-term shelter stays, little to no
client accountability, and limited-duration housing subsidies for clients with poverty-level incomes and inadequate life skills are altogether insufficient to sustainably end homelessness. An inadequate stock of affordable and accessible housing also presents a significant problem for those departing the Brisben Center.
With some critical issues identified, and amidst a global pandemic, the Brisben Center developed and launched its 2020-2023 Strategic Plan. Months of extensive research, reviews of numerous evidence-based programs, facilitated discussions, and wise contributions from the board, staff, clients, donors and government officials went into creating the plan. It commits the center and its resources to improve sheltering by implementing solutions proven to solve homelessness and by also addressing poverty. Going forward, the Brisben Center will:
◆ Continue providing safe shelter, nutritious meals and comprehensive services.
◆ Continue providing residents/clients with goal-producing, case-managed support.
◆ Apply and expand Mobility Mentoring® informed coaching to plan for measurable and sustainable wellbeing to disrupt poverty.
◆ Equip residents with life skills that yield livable-wage-incomes.
◆ Expand community partnerships to develop options for affordable and accessible housing.
◆ Reduce returns to the shelter.
◆ Use data to measure and provide feedback loops to achieve effective and efficient results.
Required are steady resolve, substantial resources, flexibility, partnerships, data integrity, and faith. With fresh energy, a new strategic plan, and our partners’ commitments, we are devoted to transformational sheltering that yields sustainable housing. Our approach is called the Brisben Bridge. A five-pillar foundation upon which to build. Seven supporting arches of outcomes. Three milestone impacts. The final destination is a decent and sustainable home.