Meet Supportive Housing

October 3, 2011

Supportive housing meets the needs of the lowest income range of the Continuum of Housing. Supportive housing provides housing or shelter for people who are homeless or are at risk of homelessness, as well as for those who have special needs such as persons who are HIV positive, have a physical or mental disability, or are chemically dependent. The main types of supportive housing in D.C. are emergency shelter, transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing.

Emergency shelter is temporary housing to provide people with a place to sleep that is protected from the weather and unsafe streets.  Emergency shelters also provide supportive services like case management, but do not provide long term housing solutions. Since emergency shelter does not provide real housing stability, shelter clients may lack the stability they need to address personal issues like drug dependency, unemployment, or health needs. As a result, the cost to the city of keeping people in shelter rather than permanent housing can end up costing the city more, due to increased emergency room visits and other publicly funded expenses. (More on this in an upcoming post.)

Transitional housing is a key program in preventing homelessness and providing stable housing to the homeless. Transitional housing is generally defined by two factors:

The amount of time that residents stay in housing is time limited. The amount of time that residents can stay in transitional housing is generally between three months and two years. The idea is that this is a step to permanent housing.
The housing is communal. Residents are given their own place to sleep, but share living and eating spaces with other residents.

Often residents in transitional housing are dealing with a variety of personal issues. Many times transitional housing programs are focused on particular populations, such as survivors of domestic violence. Transitional housing is matched with supportive services to help residents overcome these hurdles and prepare them to move to permanent housing. Residents set personal milestones such as completing job training or finding employment and are supported through one-on-one case management.

Transitional housing is especially dependent on the rest of the affordable housing continuum. Because transitional housing is time-limited, residents must find housing that is affordable to them when their stay has ended. There must be affordable rental housing or rent subsidies through vouchers to make it possible for residents leaving transitional housing to move into permanent housing they can afford.

CNHED defines Permanent Supportive Housing as a major public policy strategy for assisting individuals and families who have barriers to becoming housed and remaining housed, such as certain extremely low-income or chronically homeless families and individuals. Permanent supportive housing is different from transitional housing because it tries to place people in housing where they can stay for the long term. The idea is to place people into permanent housing first, and then support the person with “wrap around” services that will help the resident be able to stay in the home and have stability.

D.C. has demonstrated a commitment to permanent supportive housing through a series of government programs. In 2004, the city published Homeless No More, a strategy for ending homelessness by 2014 focused on providing permanent supportive housing as a way to end homelessness. In 2009, the launch of the Housing First Program created more opportunities for more permanent supportive housing. We will go more into the role of permanent supportive housing in future blog posts.

This blog post was based on the findings of An Affordable Continuum of Housing….Key to a Better City. The entire report can be found here.

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