Housing First is a program of Shelter Network in San Mateo County. The program strives to move families and individuals out of the shelters into permanent housing as quickly as possible – usually within 30 days after entry into the shelter. Once people are in housing, the goal is to help them exit poverty by increasing their income. To date the program has served 73 households with a 97% retaining their housing.
In this interview with Shelter Network’s Housing First Program Director Jacob Lile, Katrina Crotts and Jeff Olivet explore the program’s innovative strategies for ending homelessness, one family at a time.
Q: How would you describe the Shelter Network’s Housing First program?
A: Our Housing First program is based on self-sufficiency. It is a rapid re-housing program designed to increase clients’ income so they don’t have to depend on entitlement programs. We try to identify qualified individuals and families as soon as they come into the shelter. They are quickly connected with a Housing Specialist and a Case Manager. The goal is to help people move from the shelter to housing within 30 days. Within the first two years of this program, families were housed after an average of 19 day stays in shelter.
Q: What is your role in this program and what brought you into this work?
A: I started working with families in poverty and crisis in 1999, first working with Latin American Immigrants and migrant farm workers. I’ve been interested in homelessness for a long time. My family became homeless on two different occasions when I was growing up: once when I was 3 years old and again when I was 4 and a half. This was during the early 1980s, and the economy wasn’t doing so well. These early experiences affected me deeply and helped solidify my passion for working with families in transition. When I came to work for the Shelter Network, I fell in love with this place and what they are doing to make a difference in the lives of homeless families. I came on board as a Case Manager, and a year and a half later became Program Director to help transform it from a pilot program to a sustainable project.
Q: What is innovative about the program?
A: What’s really great about this program is that we provide incentives for families to increase their income. In many programs, the more money you make, the more services you lose – for example, childcare, food stamps, and cash benefits. In this program, we encourage families to increase their income and put money in savings. As families make more money, Case Managers work even harder to make sure they are still receiving what they need. If a family or individual is able to increase their income by 20%, they may qualify for additional rental subsidies. We are about helping families exit poverty.
Q: Could you tell us more about the incentives for families to increase income?
A: This program utilizes intensive housing search assistance combined with significant financial assistance, including move-in costs such as first month’s rent, security deposit, and in some cases a shallow rent-subsidy. These resources help families move into permanent housing more quickly. Qualifying participants receive up to $2,000 as a move-in assistance grant paid directly to the landlord to cover deposit and first month’s rent. Rent is then subsidized at 50% for an additional two months. During this three month period, the Housing Specialist works with the family or individual to increase their monthly wages by a minimum of 20%. If the participant is able to meet this goal, Shelter Network will continue to subsidize rent for an additional three months.
Q: What advice do you have for others around the country doing similar types of work?
A: Make sure to document everything you do so that you can go to your funders and show them your results. The more you can show increases in income and stability, the easier it is to get more money to help more families. Build relationships with landlords in your area; take them to lunch, bring them to your shelters and give tours; get them involved in the process. The better you are able to meet their needs and make sure they are happy, the more likely they will be willing to rent to your families.
For more information about Housing First, please visit: