Why This Big Foundation Is Getting Behind "Rapid Re-Housing"

Homelessness first captured national attention back in the 1980s, and many foundations have been working this issue ever since. But, boy, has this problem been hard, and for a whole bunch of reasons: Most recently, a terrible economy and spiking housing costs has made it harder for low-income Americans to keep a roof over their heads. 

And so when promising ideas come along to help the homeless, you can see why funders jump. Recently, we wrote about how the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation was investing big in "coordinated entry," a newish way to connect the homeless to the full range of services they need. 

Here's another idea that's been getting hotter in recent years: "rapid re-Housing," which, as the name suggests, is a strategy that aims to find permanent housing as quickly as possible for individuals or families who've become homeless.

This seems like a super-obvious idea, since we know how destabilizing it can be to live in limbo, and how damaging this is for children. Still, a focus on quickly placing people in permanent housing is still not the norm in policy, and so rapid re-housing advocates have had their work cut out for them. 

The approach has been gaining traction since the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funded a rapid re-housing demonstration project in 2008. Congress then put big money behind the idea in 2009 as part of the stimulus, and later gave HUD more power by law to use this approach. More recently, rapid re-housing has become a thrust of efforts to address homelessness among veterans. And earlier this year, the National Alliance to End Homelessness released the Core Components of Rapid Re-housing, a policy guidance document developed with several government agencies. 

Rapid re-housing has been gaining steam because the evidence so far suggests that it's an effective way for resolving homelessness and preventing recurrence of homelessness. A study from Georgia shows that, compared to emergency shelters and transitional housing models, this approach might be a big leap forward.

So it's not surprising that a number of foundations have been investing in Rapid Re-Housing efforts. This is one of the strategies embraced by the Gates Foundation (along with "coordinated entry"), as it seeks to cut family homelessness in half in the Puget Sound region. 

Now comes news that the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and other partners will be expanding rapid re-housing services for homeless families in Baltimore. This move is part of a larger ten-year push to end homelessness in that city.

In case you don't know about the Weinberg Foundation, it's a big operation, with total assets of $2 billion. But the foundation doesn't get much national attention because most of its funding is local, in the greater Baltimore area. In particular, it aids vulnerable and disadvantaged people, helping them meet their basic needs.

The foundation is well aware that homeless families often face multiple problems including mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, lack of education, and unemployment. Like other funders, the foundation is excited about the promise of rapid re-housing, with these efforts in Baltimore working better for families than some other approaches that have been tried. Of course, by moving people into housing faster, the program also reduces the destabilizing impact of homelessness.

How does rapid re-housing work in practice? It entails lots and lots of support for families in the transitional process. This means, if necessary, covering the costs of security deposits and moving fees. 

Everyone knows how hard it is to find a place and move. Now imagine doing that when you're living in your car. That's when outside help can make all the difference.