We know that homelessness is a complex issue requiring comprehensive solutions and cross-sector partnerships. The circumstances and challenges facing our neighbors experiencing homelessness can vary considerably, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach for individuals and families to regain housing stability. We also know that homelessness is a crisis, and that we as a crisis response system must be equipped to take prompt action. With much on the line, we continue to collaboratively improve the way we respond to homelessness in a coordinated a systematic way. We are committed to continue this important and urgent work until we get to a place where homelessness is rare, brief, and nonrecurring.
Our success as a system is illustrated through a variety of indicators, but the clearest is the year-over-year reduction in homelessness our region has seen since 2009 (28.9% total across this period). These reductions are not a fluke, and reflect top-tier programs facilitated by our service providers as well as our region’s practice of coming together to collaboratively try new approaches to maximize our resources and meet the needs of those experiencing homelessness. A great example of a transformative system improvement serving an unmet need is the implementation of rapid rehousing in 2009. This work began with an investment from The Community Foundation to pilot a program housing 24 families (28 adults and 46 children). Following this pilot, we have seen only one of these families re-enter or homeless services system to-date. Rapid rehousing has shown us that we can do things differently, and we must if we are serious about targeting our hardest to serve and moving ever closer to ending homelessness.
Again, rapid rehousing is not a magic program in and of itself, but it makes sense among the array of housing options available in our community. We know that not everybody facing a housing crisis requires intensive supports to stabilize in housing. People are resilient, and many individuals and families only need light support to get back on their feet and secure the mainstream resources necessary to be successful in housing. Rapid rehousing may not solve every issue faced by a household experiencing homelessness, but we should not mistake this as evidence that rapid rehousing is not working to end homelessness. Self-sufficiency takes time, but we know stable housing can be the springboard our neighbors need to rebuild their lives. We should be proud that our programs are 93% successful in keeping clients housed for at least a year following program exit, and continue to build bridges with the affordable housing and employment resources needed to further broaden this success.
In 2014, we were able to connect 832 children and adults (not including those served by programs for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse) with permanent housing through low-cost rapid rehousing programs. This is substantial, and there remain opportunities to serve even more. For example, in the winter of 2014-215, our region utilized rapid rehousing to move 50 individuals staying in cold weather shelter into permanent housing. Prior to this work, almost all individuals using this shelter exited back into homelessness. We knew we could and needed to do better, and we were able to successfully use rapid rehousing to address this gap in community services.
Rapid rehousing will not end homelessness on its own, though we have seen in Greater Richmond the tremendous impact it can have for families and veterans experiencing homelessness. Our numbers for these populations continue to decline (11.7% reduction in veteran homelessness and 18.5% for family homelessness between 2014 and 2015), and as a community we are rapidly accelerating the pace of change in ending homelessness. From our success comes additional opportunities to find ways to expand this and other successful housing interventions to serve other sub-populations of individuals experiencing homelessness. We must continue to try things differently and get creative in addressing the ongoing challenges of our work, as people’s lives and livelihoods are on the line. To learn more about rapid rehousing click here.