With HUD’s growing emphasis on allocating funding to rapid re-housing (RRH) over transitional housing, communities are determining how to best adapt coordinated entry to improve their RRH programs, especially for unaccompanied homeless youth.
Characteristics specific to homeless teens and young adults make the RRH model for this population more challenging. However, a well-utilized coordinated entry system (especially when integrated within a community’s HMIS) can ensure that this population is placed in housing swiftly and effectively.
Each step of the way—from street outreach, to prioritization and referral, to individual case management—it’s important that communities are aware of the tools available to them in order to streamline this process and better serve teen homelessness.
In this article, we’ll look at:
- An overview of a rapid re-housing program
- The role of coordinated entry in the rapid re-housing model
- 3 common challenges and their solutions in providing rapid re-housing for youth experiencing homelessness
By the end of this article, you will have several practical steps to take toward adapting your coordinated entry system and rapid re-housing program for youth homelessness.
Overview of Rapid Re-housing
Informed by the Housing First approach, rapid re-housing (RRH) is an intervention with the fundamental goal of reducing the amount of time a person is homeless. A Continuum of Care (CoC) implements RRH by quickly connecting homeless persons with permanent housing through a client-focused package of financial assistance and supportive services to help them achieve long-term housing stability.
HUD describes three core components to the rapid re-housing model:
- Housing Identification. RRH programs help homeless persons through the entire process of obtaining housing, including locating rental housing, contacting and recruiting landlords, addressing potential landlord concerns, and completing tenant applications.
- Rent and Move-in Assistance. RRH programs provide time-limited financial assistance to cover move-in costs, deposits, and rental and/or utility assistance.
- Case Management and Services. The unique needs, preferences, and financial resources of homeless persons are taken into account when helping them troubleshoot barriers to acquiring and maintaining permanent housing. Case management services typically include following up with a client’s housing stability after placement, such as through home visits and landlord communication.
How Does Coordinated Entry Work with Rapid Re-Housing?
As the purpose of rapid re-housing is to reduce the amount of time a person is homeless, coordinated entry (i.e. coordinated assessment, centralized intake, coordinated intake) is essential to this model. HUD states that the goal of coordinated assessment is to connect homeless persons with assistance as effectively as possible, ensuring that shelter and services are easily accessible to any homeless person.
Below are the three distinct components of coordinated assessment, according to HUD, and how they relate to the RRH model:
- Access. Coordinated assessment requires a defined entry point into a CoC’s system of care. When consistent service is easily accessible to a homeless individual no matter which ‘door’ they enter, the time spent being directed from one shelter or provider to the next is reduced. Instead, the process of ultimately connecting that individual to housing is more efficient.
- Standardized Assessment. With coordinated assessment, CoCs are required to use a standardized assessment tool (such as the VI-SPDAT) to identify, document, and prioritize the needs of all homeless persons seeking housing or services. This ensures that those with the highest need are connected with housing first.
- Referral. A coordinated assessment referral system must be unified among service providers, maintaining a real-time accounting of available services and housing across various projects in a CoC’s geographic area. A consistent and seamless referral system streamlines the process for connecting homeless individuals and families with the housing they need, supporting the rapid re-housing model.
Challenges and Solutions to Adapting Coordinated Entry and Rapid Re-Housing for Youth Homelessness
While a well-developed coordinated intake system supports the rapid re-housing model, there are unique challenges to applying this system and model to teen homelessness. There are key characteristics that make this population more difficult to serve compared to homeless adults.
In this section, we’ll take a look at three common challenges in using coordinated intake and the rapid re-housing model for youth homelessness. For each challenge, we’ll discuss a few practical solutions as well as a few applicable HMIS solutions.
Challenge #1: Finding and Engaging Homeless Youth
Access is clearly a critical part of coordinated intake as housing can’t be matched until providers have first connected with a homeless individual. But for homeless young adults and teens, access can be particularly elusive as it is not often pursued.
Many youth are unaware they qualify as homeless—and if they are aware, they often refuse the label and the services associated due to embarrassment around peers. Depression, anxiety and associated histories of abuse and betrayal also intensify their distrust of adults, shelters and support services.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness suggests partnering with organizations who work specifically with youth at-risk of or experiencing homelessness. Volunteers who have formerly been or are currently homeless will have special insight into where other homeless youth congregate.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology is also a helpful tool in mapping and studying known locations of homeless teens to predict other locations where they may hang out.
Additionally, Janus Youth Programs provides a great resource for tips on engaging and interacting with youth experiencing homelessness. A great place to do this is at a drop-in center, providing a safe, informal place for youths to gather and for outreach workers to build trust and connect with them.
An HMIS with mobile capabilities is a valuable asset for working with homeless young adults and teens. Because this population is so mobile, it’s important for outreach workers to be flexible and meet them where they are. Having access to your HMIS via mobile device makes this intake process (and case management) convenient.
Such capabilities are available through the Clarity Human Services HMIS, including:
- GPS tracking: Exact GPS coordinates for each interaction with a client can be recorded and stored progressively within the HMIS mobile application.
- Photo capture: Photos can be taken, cropped, and integrated directly from the HMIS mobile interface while in the field.
- Finger signature: During field and outreach efforts, clients can sign consent forms and other documents electronically, saving both time and resources.
Challenge #2: Assessment and Referral Systems Must Be Uniquely Adapted for Homeless Youth
The assessment and referral components of a centralized intake system look different for youth than they do for adults. This population has unique social-emotional developmental challenges that make streamlined assessment and referral crucial to their success. However, a 2016 report from America’s Promise Alliance reports that insufficient and disorganized systems have unfortunately led to communities seeing a disconnect between homeless youth and the liaisons, state coordinators, policies and practices meant to help them.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness shares that many teens encountered on initial outreach are often still in survival mode, carrying with them histories of trauma and broken family and support systems. National Network for Youth says that many youth experiencing homelessness—40 percent of which identify as LGBT, according to National Coalition for the Homeless—flee or are forced to leave their homes due to conflict, abuse, neglect or poverty.
Others are exiting the child welfare, criminal justice, or mental health systems. Those exiting these systems are known to become homeless within six months because they are unprepared to live independently and have limited education and little to no social support. If not connected with services and housing in a timely manner, these youth remain vulnerable to dangers such as sexual exploitation, labor trafficking, and various health risks.
Collaboration of Services
To effectively cover the large range of needs this population has, it’s important that CoCs meet regularly, inviting local liaisons for services related to homeless young adults and teens, such as education, residential services, and trauma counseling. The National Center for Homeless Education provides a great resource for community collaboration. It’s also worth noting the importance of collaborating with LGBT community groups and providers, as there are needs unique to this subpopulation. Tips on this collaboration are included in a “best practices” document published by National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, and others.
With a robust system of services in place (as well as one clear point of entry into the system) communities can better connect the most vulnerable youth with housing as quickly as possible.
With an assessment and referral system directly integrated within the HMIS, CoCs are capable of customizing and conducting assessments that will automatically generate accurate and timely referrals.
When caseworkers conduct the HMIS-integrated VI-SPDAT standardized assessment tool, the HMIS will classify the client in relation to their VI-SPDAT score. This score provides an index of the urgency and intensity of the client’s needs. A VI-SPDAT assessment specifically for youth will be available soon.
The Community Queue serves as a community-wide waitlist and shows all pending referrals within the CoC’s system.
Within the sophisticated referral and reservation system, all changes to the system occur in real-time, ensuring that taken referrals and reservations cannot be given to another client.
Challenge #3: Rental Assistance and Case Management Looks Different for Homeless Youth
This is where we see the biggest difference between rapid re-housing for adult homelessness compared to rapid re-housing for youth homelessness. National Alliance to End Homelessness describes youth as “transitioning to adulthood and independence, which is a time of trying things out, making mistakes, and learning from them.”
Not only is this challenging for youth making this transition, but it is also tricky for caseworkers to find landlords who are willing to rent to tenants who can be unpredictable, irresponsible, and may have no (or negative) rental and/or credit histories. Additionally, while the rapid re-housing program offers the first safe and stable home for many homeless teens, it can still be a tough adjustment for them.
This understanding of young people must inform the context in which service providers approach client relationships and case management.
As providers coordinate with landlords, it’s important to include education on youth development, appropriate rental criteria specific to youth (e.g. accepting negative to no rental/credit history, the lack of steady employment, etc.), and how to address age-appropriate behaviors through programs as opposed to an eviction.
Flexibility and Individualization
Individualized goals and expectations need to be reasonably set and measured. Youth will most likely require more intensive case management up front, such as teaching them how to run their own household, understanding lease requirements, preparing a budget, and cooking healthy meals.
Overall, case management for this population may last longer on average compared to adults—especially as youth must be allowed to experiment, fail, and learn and grow in developmentally appropriate ways, without the threat of housing loss.
National Network for Youth offers a valuable resource with more recommendations for adapting housing identification, financial assistance, and case management and services for youth.
Because case management can be much more intensive and long-term for this population, an HMIS system with the tools necessary to handle the job is extremely valuable. When case management features are comprehensive and easy to use, caseworkers are able to focus on their client and not on their software systems.
An HMIS-integrated calendar (containing items such as re-assessment due dates) can be subscribed to through an external email client such as Outlook. The calendar feed also contains links directly to client programs and services.
Tracking Client Progress
Within the Clarity Human Services HMIS, System Administrators can create customized assessments and goal plans across multiple agencies and providers that track progress over time for targeted variables.
Funding and Expense Tracking
The Funding tool provides the ability to document and track expenses for both Primary and Sub-granted funding sources. Service transactions and non-cash assistance (i.e. bus passes, food stamps, etc.) are also easy to record and monitor.
While rapid re-housing—working hand-in-hand with coordinated assessment—is proven best practice for ending homelessness, the implementation of this program must take into consideration the unique characteristics and challenges of working with homeless youth.
The process of 1) finding and engaging homeless young adults and teens, 2) assessment and referral, and 3) providing rental assistance and case management serivces to this population will look different. But the tools discussed in this article are available to communities, helping them effectively adapt their approach in addressing youth experiencing homelessness through both practical and HMIS solutions.
Despite the difficulties in serving homeless youth, there is great potential for CoCs to tailor their coordinated intake systems and rapid re-housing programs in order to appropriately aid and empower them.
Want to learn more?
- Download the white paper on this same topic.
- Watch the recorded webinar in which we show how to use HMIS to adapt coordinated entry and rapid re-housing for youth homelessness.