Best practices for CoCs: Housing First

HUD is providing a weekly series of messages in advance of the CoC Program funding competition.  The messages highlight best practices and identify federal funding priorities.  The first of these messages, below, focuses on Housing First:

The Housing First model is not a new approach; however, it has only been since the adoption and implementation of Opening Doors that HUD and our Federal partners have really begun to emphasize the use of this approach. We have seen the impact of using Housing First principles and consider it to be a best practice when used in permanent supportive housing to serve people experiencing chronic homelessness. HUD has posted a brief called Housing First in Permanent Supportive Housing that discusses the core principles of a Housing First model to help inform implementation of this model at the local level.

As I stated in a Weekly Focus message last year, Housing First is a paradigm shift from the traditional housing ready approach. It follows a basic principle—that everyone is ready for housing, regardless of the complexity or severity of their needs. My colleague Richard Cho, Senior Policy Director at the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, recently posted a blog that aimed to de-bunk certain myths about Housing First. I encourage you to read it but I want to highlight one of his key points: Housing First is not a ‘program’, it is a system-wide orientation and response. For this very reason, HUD added a new scoring element in the FY 2013-FY 2014 CoC Program Competition that scored CoCs on the extent to which they had adopted a Housing First approach throughout all of their Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH). Recipients of grants that indicated that they followed a Housing First approach in their FY 2013 project application will therefore be expected to do so for at least the FY 2013 and FY 2014 operating years since this information contributed to the CoC’s overall score for the joint competition.

Adopting Housing First has to go beyond this project-by-project implementation. What we—HUD, USICH, VA and our other Federal partners—are talking about here is systems change. Quoting Richard Cho, “Housing First is a whole-system orientation, and in some cases, a whole-system re-orientation. To borrow a phrase, it is about ‘changing the DNA’ of how a community responds to homelessness.” Evidence has shown that people with long histories of homelessness and chronic disabilities who were served in PSH using a Housing First approach had a number of positive outcomes. Homelessness, arrests, hospitalization, and emergency room visits all declined significantly. Furthermore, the public costs of shelter, corrections, and health care declined significantly, making the net public cost of serving a person with PSH about the same as or less than the cost of allowing them to remain homeless.

The Housing First approach has several key features: few programmatic prerequisites, low barrier admission policies, rapid and streamlined entry into permanent housing, voluntary and engaging supportive services, and a focus on housing stability. In combination, these elements successfully house even people with long criminal histories and the most severe medical and behavioral health problems. HUD recognizes that this approach may not be applicable to all program designs, particularly for those projects formerly awarded under the Supportive Housing Program (SHP) or Shelter Plus Care (SPC) Program which were permitted to target persons with specific disabilities or projects that have more restrictive program models (e.g., “sober housing”). But it is imperative that CoCs look closely at all of its permanent supportive housing to make sure that this model is being implemented to the maximum extent possible.

A good first step is to assess tenant selection and admission policies to ensure they are as simple and streamlined as possible and that people who most need assistance are not screened out. Providers can also review termination policies to ensure that they are consistent with Housing First practices and that every effort is made to prevent lease violations and troubleshoot barriers to housing stability before resorting to evictions. The Housing First orientation is very different than the way many projects have been operating, and staff may need specialized training in practices such as motivational interviewing and harm reduction to successfully manage PSH with a Housing First approach.

In the coming months and years, HUD’s emphasis on a Housing First approach in permanent supportive housing will likely grow, as will the need to prioritize people with the longest histories of homelessness and the highest service needs for PSH. This requires a new way of thinking that we recognize will not be easy and will not happen overnight. We continue to provide guidance and resources on this topic and in the meantime, would encourage you to use the USICH Housing First Checklist: A Practical Tool for Assessing Housing First in Practice. This tool is “intended for use by policymakers, government officials, and practitioners alike to help make a basic assessment of whether and to what degree a particular housing program is employing a Housing First approach.

The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently hosted “Core Principles of Housing First and Rapid Re-Housing,” a webinar designed for homelessness service providers, communities, and policymakers to understand the core components of the Housing First approach and the Rapid Re-Housing model and how both work together to help end homelessness. If you were not able to participate in the live webinar, you are encouraged to view the webinar materials.

As always, thank you for your tireless work to help end homelessness.

Ann Marie Oliva Director, Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs


Minutes – Veterans Committee, 7/23/2014

In attendance:  Jay Levy, Eliot; Kerry Spitzer, MIT,; Beth Barbra,Vets Inc;  Isabel Belen,Vets Inc; Sabrina Willard,Springfield Partners; Netshari Ortiz,Soldier On; Ben Cluff, MDPH; Steve Connor,  Northampton Vets Services; Steve Como, Soldier On; Melissa Mateus, Springfield Partners; Susan White, VAMC

Update on Veteran Resource Sheet

*Ben Cluff notes that it is being used by the housing specialists in Springfield.  Sue White shared that a VA staff member was recently handed the sheet by the Holyoke VSO. So it is evidently being used.  No changes or updates suggested.

*Ben Cluff asks if the “script” given to family shelter providers was also distributed on the blog (it was not.)  Discussion ensued and it was agreed that it would be useful to also distribute the script after a couple of revisions (change the SAVE/SHARP team number, remove HUD-VASH specific info) and after Isabel Belen translates it into Spanish.  Sue White and Isabel Belen will communicate re: progress and forward finished product to Pamela Schwartz for distribution on the blog after her return.

State Commission to End Veteran Homelessness update: 

Steve Connor who serves on Commission and chairs Prevention working group provided an update.  The Commission is going to be offering two regional trainings in the fall, one in Boston and one in Western Mass, likely at the Soldiers Home (location and date not yet confirmed.)  Four hour training with several topics:  Update on the 5 year Statewide Plan, discussion with PHA and housing providers about how they can be helpful in the effort to end homelessness, discussion about how VSO’s and PHA’s can collaborate to prevent evictions, among others.

The target audience will be those who are less familiar with the Network’s activities and are not necessarily connected to the CoC, e.g.  housing authority staff, housing providers.  Steve is asking for assistance in building the invitation list and requests that people forward names/agencies that should be included.  His e-mail:

Steve shares that the Commission is beginning to pay closer attention to PIT data in Western Mass with an eye towards ensuring that all resources are being utilized in the best and most timely way.  This led to discussion of a suggestion received by Sue White from Stephanie Harrington of the Boston HUD office that the Veterans Committee considers adding to the agenda regular discussion of identified homeless veterans in the area/problem-solving sticky cases.  All present concluded that this is already done sufficiently at area REACH meetings and that, in fact, a nice integration of veteran providers has already been achieved at these meetings, making an additional veteran-specific meeting unnecessary.

Discussion then ensued about the launch of the centralized intake and how best to coordinate all of the procedures and data collection efforts of the CoC, Network, Statewide Commission, VA, Veterans Committee, etc.  It is agreed that this is a large and complex effort requiring its own discussion; it will be put on the agenda for the next Veterans Committee meeting.


*The Vet Expo is happening on October 9 from 11-7:00 at the Mass Mutual center.  This event is not specific to homeless veterans but rather will cover the full gamut of veteran resources.

*Jay Levy announces the Housing First Conference taking place on October 16.  He notes that a representative for veteran issues/resources will need to be identified to be a participant on panels.  It was agreed that we could decide on this by/at the next meeting.

*Ben Cluff announces a new SAMHSA grant that will provide for another three year round of the Access to Recovery program.  He emphasizes that veteran status alone will make one eligible for the program.  See attached flyer.

*Steve Como announces that The Blue Book is now available in both book and on-line form.  This is the detailed resource book of veteran resources available in Western Massachusetts.  (Link is forthcoming.)

Other Updates

*Beth Barbra of Vets Inc. introduces herself.  She is the new Employment and Training Specialist for homeless or at-risk of homelessness individuals.  Refer by phone (413-276-9311) or e-mail  She notes that she is able to go to clients for meetings.

*Vets Inc. informs us that Prevention money for HUD-VASH (not non-HUD-VASH) clients has run out for this year.  However, Rapid Rehousing funds are still available for HUD-VASH clients.

*Springfield Partners/Soldier On announces that there is a new case manager in training.  Going forward, they will be putting more of an emphasis on case management in an effort to work with people on creating sustainability in their situations, e.g. providing assistance with ongoing budgeting rather than simply covering a past due utility bill (that soon becomes past due again.)

Next Meeting:  August 29, 9-10:30 at the Northampton Senior Center

HOT Housing is Here!

HOT Splash Screen 6The Housing Options Tool (HOT) is now live! Many of you have seen demonstrations of the HOT over the past few months, so you know that it provides an online venue to find housing for persons with long histories of homelessness – based on their preferences, program eligibility, income requirements, and desired level of services.

Almost 50 programs are participating in HOT, and search results can be refined based upon more than a dozen filters! Even better: the tool includes an online Vacancy Reporting form so that any program can post and publicize a housing opportunity in real time, as well as an Applications Warehouse where housing application materials for all listed programs can be downloaded.

Over the next few months we will be refining the tool, increasing provider participation, and incorporating the use of the VI-SPDAT, a proven screening tool. These enhancements will be made by October 1st, 2014, when we launch our Coordinated Assessment initiative! Until then, please try out the tool and let us know what works for you, what maybe doesn’t work, and what we may have missed.

Upcoming Webinar: HUD and USICH: Core Principles of Housing First and Rapid Re-Housing – July 22, 2014 – 1:30 PM EDT

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) are sponsoring a webinar on July 22, 2014, which will focus on the core principles of Housing First and Rapid Re-Housing. The webinar will be presented by Ann Oliva, the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs at HUD, and Richard Cho, the Senior Policy Director with USICH.

Participants will learn:

  • Core Components of the Housing First approach
  • Core Components of Rapid Re-Housing as a housing model
  • How to implement a Housing First and/or Rapid Re-Housing
  • Why both of these interventions are critical to the efforts to end homelessness

Core Principles of Housing First and Rapid Re-Housing Webinar Tuesday, July 22, 2014 1:30 PM – 3:00 PM EDT