Overcoming hurdles to housing: How one federal grant is helping state and local partners rally to move people out of homelessness

Renewed federal grant funding supports 196 community-based homeless programs that provide transitional housing, rental assistance, supportive services and housing to nearly 18,000 people

Early last year, Sandra (name changed for confidentiality) packed herself and her five children into a car and fled her abuser in California to a friend’s home in Washington.

Shortly after arriving in Thurston County, she was directed to the Family Support Center of South Sound. They quickly connected her to a domestic violence housing advocate through the agency’s Family Justice Center Program. The advocate worked with Sandy to figure out what barriers she had to finding a permanent home. Sandy was unemployed at the time, had an eviction on her record, and had to leave California without important documents.

The advocate enrolled Sandra in a program designated specifically for survivors of domestic violence. Together, Sandy and the advocate identified a landlord who accepted her rental history and she and her kids moved into housing. The advocate continued working with Sandy, helping her replace the documentation that she left behind, including her driver’s license and birth certificates for all of her children so they could enroll in school. Her advocate continued checking in to provide support. When Sandy lost her job as an in-home caregiver due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her advocate helped her navigate unemployment and access additional rental assistance and other benefits available to her.

Today, Sandy is still stably housed and is seeking opportunities to volunteer and support others who find themselves in similar circumstances.

Sandra’s story is just one example of the many barriers and challenges facing those with housing insecurity. When provided the resources, local communities can rally around individuals to provide the short and long term supports people need to remain stably housed.

In Sandra’s case, the state Department of Commerce facilitated funding to the Family Support Center of South Sound thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

HUD recently announced they’re awarding local homeless programs throughout Washington state $84.4 million to continue helping an estimated 17,800 people in need in our communities. The grants renew funding for HUD’s “Continuum of Care” — a program that supports community-based programs on the front lines of serving individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

Here in Washington, these programs provide services including transitional housing rental assistance, supportive services such as outreach and permanent supportive housing for people with disabilities.

Find the complete list of funding awards and programs here.

“Our state has an incredible network of organizations working every day in partnerships with local governments and housing programs to make the most of every available dollar to help the growing number of individuals and families experiencing homelessness,” said Washington State Commerce Director Lisa Brown. “We had a homeless crisis before COVID, and today, sadly, we’re seeing even more people in need, some for the first time in their lives. This HUD funding is vitally important to strengthen communities in our battle to end homelessness.”

A photo of young parents and their four children standing outside a home. They are smiling at the camera.
A photo of young parents and their four children standing outside a home. They are smiling at the camera.
One of the ways the Family Support Center of South Sound leverages this HUD funding is for rapid-rehousing, partnering with nonprofit HOMES FIRST. This family accessed an affordable home owned and operated by Homes First and successfully transitioned to paying the full rent within a few short months. Photo courtesy of Homes First.

This HUD funding provides a critical safety net for families, survivors of violence, veterans, youth and all people who find themselves without housing. Local communities simply do not have sufficient resources to effectively address homelessness on their own. These funds ensure that families have access to the support they need to get and sustain a safe and healthy home long term.

— — Trish Gregory, Executive Director Family Support Center of South Sound

Data confirms stable housing launches life-changing journeys

Graph showing 80% of people in rapid re-housing exit to permanent housing compared to 37% of people in emergency shelters
Graph showing 80% of people in rapid re-housing exit to permanent housing compared to 37% of people in emergency shelters
Data confirms that rapid re-housing is one of the most effective interventions for helping people achieve stable, permanent housing. The blue bars represent actual percentages and the gray bars represent Commerce’s goals. 80% of people placed in rapid re-housing are able to transition to permanent housing, meeting Commerce’s goal. 15% of individuals in rapid re-housing return to homelessness at some point over 24 months compared to 26% of individuals placed in emergency shelters.

Moving is a major — and very stressful — undertaking for all of us. Packing up belongings, settling into a new community, providing a new address for all of your important contacts. Now imagine that many times a year, or every day, or not knowing where you will go or stay. It’s easy to understand why many housing experts say unequivocally that without stable housing, nothing else matters.

Data, such as these from Commerce’s main homeless services report card, bear out that the most effective — and cost-effective — approaches to end or shorten homelessness hinge on getting people into stable housing quickly and keeping them housed. Investing in rapid re-housing — helping people obtain housing quickly, with some optional services to aid self-sufficiency — has by far the best outcomes. In fact, rapid re-housing is most often the only kind of intervention people who become homeless need to get back on their feet.

With a stable place to live, people have reliable access to the things most of us take for granted. With an address and a regular base, daily worries about survival can transition to easier transportation planning, keeping contact with health care, community service providers, work and other opportunities for supporting a successful journey to self-sufficiency.

Additionally, many studies show that people with disabilities and many barriers who have experienced very long periods of homelessness, were able to stabilize once they were housed. Permanent supportive housing reduces visits to hospitals and jails and, in some cases, improves chronic health issues.

Learn more: Commerce has several dashboards to help state and local leaders evaluate the effectiveness and equity of homeless crisis response systems. Our goal is that homelessness is rare, brief and one time. Visit Commerce’s Homeless System Performance page.

Find related data tracking the ongoing impact of the pandemic on state support programs, including Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) and Basic Food Assistance, in Commerce’s Economic Recovery Dashboard.

Washington State Department of Commerce official news and information. Our mission is to strengthen communities in our state.

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