Preparing for the 2017 NOFA: Make Sure Your CoC Application is Housing First Focused

This article originally appears as post published at the blog for the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Written by Anna Blasco

HOW DO WE KNOW IF PROJECTS ARE HOUSING FIRST OR LOW BARRIER?

As the Continuum of Care, it can be tempting to ask project applicants to provide a narrative explanation for how they have adopted Housing First, and be done with it. But I urge you to spend a little more time on this. Housing First can mean many things to many people, so it is important to define exactly what you’re talking about so applicants understand the criteria. This means ensuring that applicants understand what Housing First is and how it should be implemented.

The good news is you don’t have to start from scratch. I highly recommend taking a look at our Housing First Fact Sheet, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness’s (USICH’s) Housing First Checklist, and 100,000 Homes’ Shelter Eligibility Checklist (starts on Appendix A). HUD also just recently released a fact sheet about using a Housing First philosophy when serving youth.

During the NOFA process, the project ranking committee should be prepared to review organizational policies and procedures to see how organizations have reduced barriers and are implementing Housing First. Projects should not have restrictive entry criteria such as sobriety or income requirements.

The number of people who are exited from the program for noncompliance with program rules should also be extremely minimal. In addition, a focus on permanent housing should be evident. Clients should not be required to complete classes or jump through extra hoops before they are re-housed.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR TRANSITIONAL HOUSING?

It seems paradoxical that transitional housing programs are included in HUD’s Housing First focus, but it is very much in line with HUD’s policy priorities. In 2015, HUD signed on to a consensus document outlining an extremely limited role for long-term, congregate transitional housing.

If it still seems at odds, research shows transitional housing has the same outcomes as rapid re-housing but is more expensive. HUD is encouraging communities to use this more costly, service enriched intervention for people who need it the most, while shifting the focus to increasing exits to permeant housing and reducing the length of time people stay in transitional housing.

Finally, if organizations agreed to reduce barriers and adopt a Housing First approach during the previous NOFA process, it is important that the CoC assess whether this change has been implemented. Providing training and support to help organizations make this shift is key. Adopting a Housing First approach involves changing your organizational culture, and this is no easy task. It will, however, ensure that the people who need help the most are not left out in the cold.

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