New Framework for Housing Stability
To implement this framework, the ECHO Steering Committee is making the following specific recommendations.
Multiple But Limited Points of Entry
Given the desire to build on aspects of the system that are already working well, the Steering Committee determined that multiple but limited points of entry would be the most appropriate model in Austin/Travis County. A team of trained Assessment Specialists would be responsible for:
- Providing diversion assistance, if possible and as appropriate based on the household’s needs and circumstances;
- Administering the assessment to determine the type of intervention needed to resolve the household’s homelessness;
- Determining an interim housing placement (as appropriate and available);
- Ensuring a specific staff person is assigned to each household and a warm handoff occurs; and
- Developing capacity to ensure all clients are assessed in an agreed time period.
The Steering Committee envisions an assessment team that works across the community at the designated points of entry. Resources permitting, staff might be hired, trained, and supervised by one agency, but deployed/co-located to other locations to perform this function.
“Diversion” is a term used for the assistance provided to individuals and families standing at the front door of the system seeking shelter/housing. The tools are very similar to those used in prevention and rapid re-housing programs, including assistance with arrears, short-term rental assistance, landlord mediation, connection to mainstream benefits and services, etc. Individual providers in Austin may be providing some level of diversion assistance, but it is typically not done in a purposeful, consistent manner across the system. However, there are a number of reasons why the Steering Committee feels that a more systematic approach to diversion makes sense, not the least of which is that demand for shelter in Austin/Travis County exceeds local capacity, and consequently, it makes good sense to help households save or recover housing units (when possible) or identify and secure another option if a safe alternative exists.
The Assessment Tool: Self-Sufficiency Outcome Matrix (SSOM)
The Steering Committee proposes a combination of questions that first address the possibility of diversion, and when diversion isn’t an option, then matches the client to the most appropriate permanent housing intervention or “pathway.” Additional questions are also included to capture basic demographic information and make initial assessments regarding program eligibility to help determine a specific referral. For the portion of the tool used to assign clients to a housing intervention, the Steering Committee recommends use of the Self Sufficiency Outcome Matrix (SSOM), an assessment that is already in HMIS and is currently being used locally by some case managers.
Right-Sizing Assistance: Permanent Housing Pathways
The framework identifies three permanent housing interventions, or “pathways,” and is based on the principle of providing the least intervention necessary to promote housing stability for the client or client family. This strategy, sometimes referred to as “right-sizing” assistance or “just enough” assistance, is important because Austin has more demand for housing assistance than available resources. As such, the assessment tool aims to identify which permanent housing intervention is most effective and cost effective relative to each client’s needs.
- The lowest intervention (minimal housing assistance) is a very light touch. An individual case manager will not be assigned, though the Assessment Specialist may provide referrals to mainstream service providers, and access to group case management or informational workshops may be provided. In addition, one-time financial assistance may be needed.
- The medium intervention is rapid re-housing, which includes between 3 to 24 months of financial assistance and supportive services. The assistance is not one-size-fits-all, but rather titrated based on each client’s unique needs and circumstances.
- The most intensive intervention is permanent supportive housing. PSH is intended to be reserved for those individuals and families who are unable to remain stably housed “but for” a permanent subsidy and ongoing supportive services.
As the TA providers identified during their site visit, staff are often required to wear multiple hats and, consequently, are stretched very thin. To help address this challenge, the Steering Committee recommends specialization across three different roles: 1) Assessment Specialists; 2) Case Management Specialists (three distinct types); and 3) Housing Specialists.
To implement the changes discussed in this report and to make full use of coordinated assessment, the Steering Committee recognizes the need to “open” Austin’s Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) and increase data sharing across providers.