Expanding Transitional and Supportive Housing

Protection + Production

“Having a place to stay is essential, but sometimes it’s not enough, people need support to get back on their feet.” 

Transitional Housing programs provide a place to stay for homeless families and individuals, typically for up to two years,115 and Supportive Housing programs provide housing with additional support services and accommodations.116 Transitional and supportive housing serve residents who have faced some kind of crisis, such as a severe addiction, a traumatic incident, returning from incarceration, or extreme poverty. The housing programs are typically provided by non-profit and public agencies with funding from public sources, donors, and foundations. Residents of supportive housing, especially those with a history of residential instability or mental illness, are more likely to avoid re-incarceration, experience fewer visits to the emergency room, and need fewer inpatient hospital stays.117

Understanding the Policy

Supportive housing provides a stable, reliable place to stay, coupled with case management that connects the residents to needed services. It generally provides multiple benefits over homeless shelters, including a permanent address, access 24 hours per day, greater safety, the ability to host family and friends, and others. 

In 2016, Contra Costa County implemented a new coordinated housing system, which integrates “intake, needs assessment, and provision of services, including referrals to permanent housing when appropriate.”118 The system spans public and nonprofit programs, from drop-in services and emergency shelters, to transitional housing and permanent affordable housing programs. The most successful type of program for placing people into permanent housing was Rapid Rehousing, which last year reported 87 percent of clients exiting to permanent housing.119 Of those who accessed permanent supportive housing, 98 percent were able to successfully retain housing. However, these programs had only 218 beds in the county and were only able to serve about 1,000 people each last year, out of some 8,500 homeless people coming into contact with the county’s continuum of care system.

In Richmond, there are few providers of transitional and supportive housing services, including Shelter Inc, GRIP, and the Nevin House. The current services fall short of meeting the need, according to providers interviewed for this report. A recent Contra Costa County Grand Jury investigation concluded that the “homeless situation in Contra Costa County is large enough to justify the effort to find additional funds to provide more shelter beds for the homeless.”120

People coming home from incarceration often experience homelessness at much higher rates than the general population. A survey in Richmond of people recently released from incarceration found that one out of five had experienced homelessness since their release.121 Lack of a stable home and address is not only a housing issue, but also creates obstacles to obtaining a job, developing positive relationships, and avoiding re-incarceration. Research has found that housing is a “platform” for successful reintegration after incarceration.122 Yet there are very few transitional housing programs dedicated to this part of the community in Richmond. Formerly incarcerated Richmond residents interviewed for this report shared that a last resort is sleeping at a Sober Living Residential program, intended for individuals with addictions, even when addictions are not an issue. Recent community testimonies have raised issues with sober living programs being unregulated and failing to address basic habitability issues like rotten floors and broken locks. 

Designing the Policy

Rapid Re-Housing programs are effective at “improving housing retention for persons who are typically considered to be hard-to-house.”123 However, they must be designed to fit the particular needs of the local community and subpopulations. The core program elements are helping people find available housing, rent and move-in assistance, and case management. Using the “Housing First” approach, Rapid Re-Housing programs are able to maximize the effectiveness of the other services they provide. Housing First approaches can differ but typically share three principles:

  • No requirement for residents to demonstrate housing readiness

  • The provision of individualized support

  • The incorporation of the principle of self-determination

As part of a continuum of care, supportive housing is one phase in a process that leads residents to placement in permanent housing. If there is a lack of affordable permanent housing, the process gets backed up and people ready for permanent housing cannot exit their supportive housing program, which then limits slots for others who need supportive housing. Similarly, if there is insufficient supportive housing then people who need it will remain stuck in emergency shelters, or homeless. Providers of supportive housing in Richmond report a lack of affordable permanent housing that their clients can move into.

Putting the Policy in Place

Funding for transitional and supportive housing is extremely limited. As of September 30, 2012, HUD funding for the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program, was eliminated.124 Despite this, the Greater Richmond Interfaith program (GRIP) operates a small homeless prevention and rapid re-housing program to provide services to at-risk individuals and families.125 It is unclear whether the county’s transition to a “coordinated entry” model means funding and supportive housing services in Richmond will increase. New funding for housing first and rapid re-housing programs could come from Contra Costa County, city grants, private philanthropy, or could be redirected from the planned expansion of the West County jail.

Resources

  • “Rapid Re-Housing Brief,” an introduction to rapid re-housing program design by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development

  • “Contra Costa Homeless Continuum of Care 2015-2016 Fiscal Year Annual Report,” an annual report by the Contra Costa Council on Homelessness that provides data on people experiencing homelessness, and the housing system serving them in the county.

  • “Housing and Community Reintegration in Contra Costa County,” a report by the Safe Return Project presenting findings from a survey of formerly incarcerated residents’ experiences accessing housing, and solutions to address the issues identified.

  • Richmond Task force on Homelessness, a task force formed by the Richmond City Council in 2017 to develop solutions to homelessness. Council Member Melvin Willis is the chair and city staff member Michelle Milan is the coordinator.