Housing First: 10 Tips to Success

1.    Educate your staff and community on the principles of Housing First.
If you take the time to educate those around you about the principles and proven results of Housing First, you will gain more support for the program. In Housing First, housing is not used as leverage to ensure treatment compliance, but is considered an important individual right. Once individuals are housed, everything possible is done to help people maintain their housing.

2.    Visit other programs and seek out mentors.
While Housing First programs may vary, the opportunity to learn from others’ experience and kick around ideas with them is invaluable.

3.    The transition from the streets to housing can be difficult. Find ways to help people feel comfortable in their new homes.
While someone is homeless, life is all about survival. Much energy is spent meeting basic needs. Once housed, people may have time on their hands that they do not know how to fill. Programs should ensure that services and activities are in place to keep people moving forward as they develop new roles and identities in the community.

4.    Meet people where they are and build on supports they already have in place.
Meeting people where they are is a fundamental principle of outreach, and it does not end once the person obtains housing. One of the core principles of Housing First is that services are low-barrier. Many residents may not be ready to engage fully in mainstream services, and we must support them during their transition.

5.    Recognize that living in an apartment requires a completely different skill set from living on the streets.
Some problems that new Housing First programs face can be avoided by recognizing the different skill sets that are required to live in housing and on the streets. Staff needs to recognize that behaviors such as doubling up or hoarding are survival skills. Staff should try to think about and address the underlying issues, not just the behavior.

6.    Collaborate with neighboring agencies.
Relationships with local providers allow programs to provide services that their organization may not provide. For example, programs may work with a mental health provider who can give clients a discounted rate, or with a food pantry to help keep residents’ kitchens stocked.

7.    Blend funding sources and document outcomes.
While it would be wonderful to be able to count on continued support for your program, funding is often a barrier. Most programs need to rely on multiple sources of funds. One way Housing First programs can generate funding is to work with HUD to subsidize housing and Medicaid to cover case management services. It is important to document outcomes so that you can go back to funders and show them how their support has translated into success.

8.    If your program does not own the housing units, build strong relationships with landlords and potential landlords.
Whether your housing program uses Single Room Occupancy units, or scattered site housing, developing relationships with housing management and landlords is critical to the sustainability of your program. Sometimes it is difficult to find landlords who are willing to work with a program, but once they see that staff can serve as intermediaries if problems arise, landlords often see a mutual benefit.

9.    Get training in trauma-informed care.
Anyone who has experienced chronic homelessness has experienced trauma. Make sure you understand the implications of traumatic stress, so that you can respond rather than react to a person’s choices or behavior.

10.    Have a plan to support your staff and prevent burnout.
Burnout is a real danger for staff working with people who have experienced homelessness and trauma. Make sure your staff are healthy and feel satisfied at work, so they can continue to be supportive and effective.

Source: Housing First Program Director Jacob Lile, of the Shelter Network in San Mateo County