From One Family’s Right Resources Bulletin:

Innovation in the Spotlight:
Emmaus, Inc’s Rapid Re-Housing

In Haverhill, MA, the Emmaus House has worked for 25 years as a pioneer organization connecting homeless families with stable housing options throughout the state. Since 1984, it has held the housing first model as its foremost priority, creating the space for collaboration between shelter advocates, landlords, housing services and stabilization team, and the families themselves.  Emmaus House has developed a strong framework for moving families out of shelter and into stable and diverse housing arrangements. Today, it hosts 25 families in congregate shelter and 18 in scattered sites.   Emmaus, Inc is a funded service provider in the Merrimack Valley Regional Network to End Homelessness.

As with many of its EA shelter peers, Emmaus House has leveraged the resources of the DHCD Flexible Funds program, initiated in August 2009, for the benefit of the families it serves.   Emmaus House Director Al Hanscom reports that the Flexibility Funds eliminated the crucial barrier of affordability that had hindered many families from rapidly moving into housing. Now, by leveraging market rent apartments and housing subsidies for up to one year – and the relatively low burden placed on families to provide 25 percent their income toward rent – the Emmaus House has successfully moved 86 families into stable housing in the past four months, with the expectation that 20 more will be added to that figure by the end of November. Of the 86, only 4 cases have required mediation or negotiation on the part of the support workers, and none have returned to shelter.

Once families are moved into housing, the Emmaus House commits to providing stabilization services for 18 months.  Emmaus is deeply committed to placing families in areas where they have preexisting support networks and where their chances of succeeding are highest. For this reason, most of the families Emmaus serves end up in regions outside of the Haverhill area, a testament to the voice families have been given in determining their transition out of shelter.  Nevertheless, maintaining support services has proven a challenge that Emmaus has overcome with frequent telephone contact and monthly visits from support workers, who streamline the process by meeting with multiple families in the same region over the course of a single trip.  When asked if Emmaus had considered transferring clients to local stabilization providers after an out-of-area housing placement, Hanscom indicated that it may be a worthy idea, but consideration has yet not been given to ‘outsourcing’ support services to local providers for two reasons: first, contracts signed between the support provider and the state are exceedingly complex and act as bureaucratic barriers to such flexibility; and second, the relationships already built between support workers and families are of primary importance to both.

The question that is often asked by those who are skeptical of the rapid re-housing with short-term subsidies is, “What happens in month 13?” Emmaus’ answer is twofold. Firstly, Emmaus ensures that all stakeholders are aware and educated that long term subsidies are not a sound option for families and that planning for the future must begin early in the first year of apartment stay. If problems do arise in the living condition of the family, they are noted in the 9th month and not the 13th month, according to Hanscom. Secondly, the DCHD has given every indication, short of a written commitment, that they will not walk away from families in the event that subsidies are required beyond the 12 month allotment. On numerous occasions, the DCHD has expressed its desire to keep families from reverting back to shelter at all costs, both for financial reasons (shelter is much more costly) and for humanistic concerns, as the trauma of further dislocation is a burden no family deserves to face.

Fears are allayed by the tremendous effort on the part of Emmaus and the state to erect safeguards for families as they transition into housing. According to Hanscom keys to success for Emmaus’ families have been the DHCD Flexible Funds, economic opportunities for families to become employed where they move to, and their ability to maintain their homeless status when utilizing Flexible Funds so that they remain a “priority” on the waiting list for subsidized housing. In sum, it is the family and housing-first model of the Emmaus House, the tireless commitment of Emmaus’ support team, and the increased level of flexibility that the DHCD program now affords them that has created this success story.

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