Why Transitional Housing for Families?

Posted by: Becca Smith Hill

Two “buzzwords”/ hot topics in the housing sector: Rapid Rehousing and Housing First.  Both of these ideas essentially follow the belief of: “move a person experiencing homelessness into permanent housing as quickly as possible to have the best outcomes.”

Sounds great, right?  In some cases and in some places, it has been; (initially, at least—we don’t have much long-term data yet.0  And research has shown that when dealing with specific populations—chronically homeless single men, for instance—the practice has been largely successful.

However, I think, and new research shows, that for families, Housing First is not always the answer.

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As an employee of St. Lawrence Place-a non-profit that provides transitional housing and intensive support services for up to 2 years to families experiencing homelessness-I believe transitional housing is better for most families than rapid rehousing.  Many families have multiple needs, not just a roof over their heads.  Many of the families we work with are experiencing generational poverty, and that is not quickly “solved” without support services and education.

Reports from New York City’s rapid rehousing for families plan, (in effect since 2005), have shown that for more than half of the families served by this model, the initiative has been largely unsuccessful.  These families simply need more services before they are able to be self-sufficient and stable in permanent housing. (ICPH’s policy opinion brief: Rapidly Rehousing Homeless Families: New York City- A Case Study)

A 2011 report from The Homeless Hub in Calgary, Canada says their research “supports that women, the fastest growing sub-population of the homeless, (and the single-parent in the majority of the families we serve at SLP), have unique needs in terms of shelter and services in transitioning from homelessness to home.”  Women in their research of transitional housing (similar to what St. Lawrence Place provides) identified key aspects of the transitional housing that helped make a significant difference in their lives:  “1) support (counselors and services), 2) a community of women experiencing similar things, and 3) time: a period to recover emotionally from various traumas, to find resources, and to find appropriate housing.”  The report concludes with this: “transitional housing clearly has an important role to play in ending homelessness for some women.  These types of programs are critical and need to be maintained at some level.”  (“A Place to Rest” The Role of Transitional Housing in Ending Homelessness for Women: A Photovoice Project)

As these “buzzwords” continue to be repeated, I would ask us all to closely examine what homeless families specifically need.  Quick decisions without research and forethought will only serve to alienate and disenfranchise this population more. Shouldn’t we be willing to take the time to give these homeless families the support they need to truly break the cycle in which they find themselves?