Shelter Diversion: A best practice to prevent homelessness
What it is, how it works
A nationally-recognized best practice, “Shelter Diversion” has the best outcomes and is the most cost-effective way to prevent homelessness. But what is it, exactly?
In essence, Shelter Diversion means keeping individuals and families from entering emergency shelters or sleeping in places not meant for human habitation. Or, by definition, becoming literally homeless.
Shelter Diversion is targeted to those who have already lost their own housing, are doubled up, and are running out of places to stay. The program provides financial assistance, and robust case management.
Shelter Diversion referrals are made by our Central Access Point Helpline
First, referrals are made through our Central Access Point (CAP) Helpline. We work to place people in need directly into emergency shelter beds and housing programs. When someone calls CAP, an Intake Specialist determines if there is an opportunity to prevent the caller from experiencing homelessness.
Since lower-income households are more likely to experience homelessness, diversion targets assistance to households that have income below 30% of Area Median Income. Or that lack financial resources and support networks, and have other homelessness risk factors such as criminal records, young children, and eviction histories.
If eligible, CAP Intake Specialists refer the caller to a Case Manager at a partner agency. Strategies to End Homelessness is the lead agency of the project in Greater Cincinnati and includes partners: Bethany House Services, Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati, Jewish Family Services, Freestore Foodbank, and Santa Maria Community Services.
Then, the Case Manager verifies the information and completes the intake into the program. From there, our Housing Specialist and Case Manager work closely with the household to assist them in securing affordable housing within 30 days. All with the goal of increased stability.
Case managers work with clients to develop a plan to: increase income, get access to community services, and treatment and education/employment programs. Case management is an integral part of the program to ensure that participants can maintain stable housing.
How effective is Shelter Diversion?
All of the agencies document information into our community’s Homeless Management Information System. So that we have complete and accurate data on all program participants. In 2018, 231 households were in the Shelter Diversion program. Of the households who exited the program in 2018, 58% increased income.
In addition, in 2018, 89% of households exited to positive housing outcomes, an 8% point increase over 2017. And, of the households that exited the prior year, 85% of them did not become homeless in 2018. This is an improvement over 2017’s percentage of 83%.
In order to review performance measures and develop strategies to improve performance, we meet monthly with the Case Managers at each partner agency.
How much does it cost?
Consider this: the average cost per person in our homeless service system is $3,800. But, by preventing a person from becoming homeless, the cost is reduced to about $1,300! Shelter Diversion the most cost effective intervention available toward the goal of ending homelessness.
Unfortunately, Shelter Diversion is largely ineligible for federal funding. Therefore, we rely on local funding sources to run this critical program. But, due to economic hardships and the lack of affordable housing, Cincinnati’s emergency shelter system is almost always operating at full capacity.
Why it matters
For instance, when we can divert someone from going into a shelter, that bed is available for someone else who may otherwise sleep on the street. Above all, it can prevent families and children from having to experience the trauma of homelessness.
The need continues to be evident in our community. Therefore, we will continue to work to raise the money needed to prevent more people from having to experience homelessness.
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