Monthly Archives: October 2012

A discussion worth having: We Still Need Shelters | Union Rescue Mission

We Still Need Shelters | Union Rescue Mission.

A discussion worth having!

First of all, we respect URM & Andy for their position & for prompting this discussion we must be having!

Here is Andy’s lead-in to his post which sets the tone for a subsequent discussion we hope to be having here:

As you may know, I’ve been speaking up for Rescue Missions and shelters, while much of the country has been discrediting our work.  In some recent blogs I have said:

“Resources are moving and moving quickly, away from shelters and transitional housing beds, towards housing first initiatives, which is believed to be the new way to end homelessness.  See my earlier blogs for notes on this.  As the resources move, shelters, transitional housing, and the beds therein are being removed from the scene, and the number of precious people on the streets, in tents, and in cars continues to increase.  However as the next count rolls out, the easier more accurate part of the count-those in shelter and transitional housing beds-will have dwindled, and the more difficult, nearly impossible part of the count, going out on the streets looking for people, will continue to be difficult, and it will appear, or be made to appear, that homelessness has decreased, when in fact, homelessness has increased”.

We feel a need to embed Andy’s quote of Nan Roman’s position & that seems an appropriate lead-in to the questions we share below (in order to continue the discussion here) – she made her comments at the NAEH 2012 Annual Convention – full keynote here (which we didn’t get to attend this year unfortunately, we would have loved to be in this discussion live & real-time too!):

Now, one of the biggest proponents of permanent housing as the solution, Nan Roman, the head of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, has admitted that shelters are still needed.  That is what I wanted someone to finally admit! Please take time to read this excerpt from her recent remarks. They speak for themselves.  I’ve included her recent remarks to close my blog;

The other issue that we at the Alliance have been examining is the homeless crisis system: how it should be sized and what it should look like. For many years now the design of the crisis system has largely been neglected, and the idea of emergency shelter as a solution has been demonized and characterized as inadequate – as a mere “Band-Aid.”

It’s true that the shelters ALONE are not the solution, but it is equally true that the majority of people who become homeless are single, able-bodied adults for whom the interventions of permanent supportive housing and transitional housing are too intensive. As we do with other human service programs, we tend to think of the crisis system in terms of the people who stay there the longest. But in reality, the majority of people who enter emergency shelters quickly move in and then move on. For them shelter is an effective short term solution – as it was designed to be.

For most people, the shelter serves its purpose as a temporary place to stay while they work out whatever kind of housing crisis they are experiencing. Most people do not stay in the system long, and they typically do not come back, or only come back once.

The crisis system also serves a vital sorting function. People enter the system when they need to, but because it is so bare bones and so unpleasant, they have little incentive to stay longer than is absolutely necessary. In this way the system sorts the people with the greatest need, the people who require the most intensive interventions, from the majority of people who are experiencing a crisis that they can handle more or less on their own. To design a good shelter or crisis system, we must answer the following questions.

  • What should it do?
  • What should be its overall size?
  • What types and number of specialized beds should be available? Most jurisdictions have a good number of beds for single adult men, but have few or none for couples, youth, people with pets, or for people who have active substance abuse issues.
  • Who should manage the shelter system, and who should be responsible for determining how many and what kind of beds are needed, and who gets each bed?
  • What is the relationship between shelter, detox and rehab, and what should it be?
  • What should be the length of stay?
  • How should the shelter system link to the back door?
  • Do the centralized one-stop-shops and campuses really work? Are they more effective or less effective than a decentralized approach?
  • If you want to fix your shelter system, where do you start? What is the first thing to take on, what is next, etc.?

Today we recognize that, if we are to end the problem of homelessness, we must transition from a program-based approach to a systems-based approach. Figuring out what the crisis system should look like is a crucial part of that, because it is sure to remain the front door and the point of assessment for further interventions. Re-tooling this system is absolutely critical, and something we are anxious to explore with you over the next year. But if you thought I would have answers to the questions above – not yet! We do, however, have a few ideas.

We firmly believe that the time a person spends in shelter should be very short. One key goal set by the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act is that no one experience homelessness for a period longer than 30 days. Ideally, people should move through the shelter system fast. The faster people leave, the greater the turnover rate, the fewer the number of beds needed, and the greater the likelihood that the quality of shelters can be addressed, which is important, because right now the quality of shelters must be improved. In many places the standards remain very low.

To accomplish this, shelters should be a place of assessment, and shelter personnel should have a variety of tools to draw upon in order to provide the help people need to move on. More rapid re-housing tools would certainly facilitate this process, and people in the shelter system could be connected to community-based service slots. In short, shelter personnel could probably empower people in the shelter system to accomplish on their own many of the things that transitional housing and other back end interventions currently do for them.

-Nan Roman The National Alliance to End Homelessness

So our questions (for discussion below in comments on this post) would be:

  • Do we need more shelter beds?
  • Has Housing First been over-promised?
  • What issues does Housing First address regarding people who are homeless who have tried shelters or won’t use them?
  • What innovations do we need around Housing First in its current state?
  • How can Social Impact Bonds level the playing field & let the “opposing” approached prove themselves?
  • Many more issues to discuss but here’s a start!
  • We are ion the path to some innovations around Housing FIrst with both the housing stock itself & the services wrapped around & embedded in the new form of housing!
  • And, is all Housing First the same? Are we working with common understandings?
  • Most importantly, is there a distinction in shelter & Housing FIrst approaches around sobriety first vs Housing First & Recovery after housing vs before?

Stay tuned & look at to stay in touch & support our efforts!

Also, here are two comments we made on another Facebook friend’s posting of Andy’s blog – with his statement when he shared the post too:

Housing First SavannahHomelessnessInSavannahGeekTheHomelessVoxPatriainSavannah