Diversion can help families exit homelessness quickly, simply and safely

Published: April 16, 2018

New publications from Building Changes show encouraging results from two Puget Sound area Diversion pilots.

Our data reveals Diversion costs less and takes less time to get families successfully housed, and that the vast majority of families housed through Diversion do not return to homelessness within a year.

Two new publications from Building Changes demonstrate the effectiveness of Diversion as a solution to help families move quickly and simply from homelessness to safe housing.

The pair of data-rich resources, titled Homeless to Housed in a Hurry, share quantitative and qualitative evidence that should encourage homeless systems across Washington state – and throughout the U.S. – to integrate Diversion as their first response toward resolving a family’s homeless crisis.

One publication is an overview of Diversion and the other is a case study of Diversion in Pierce County.

Diversion is a light-touch approach that engages families early in their homeless crisis. Through an exploratory conversation, a staff member trained in the techniques of Diversion prompts families to identify realistic housing options based on their own resources rather than those of the system. For some families, tapping their own connections represents their best shot at becoming housed quickly because local resources may be scarce and not readily available to them.

The goal under Diversion is for families to become housed right away – ideally within 30 days.

Diversion emphasizes a family's own strengths, connections and resources as the instruments for becoming housed.

Diversion was developed in other parts of the country as a strategy to help people identify housing options as alternatives to entering a homeless shelter. Since 2014, Building Changes has worked with several counties, nonprofits and philanthropies in Washington to test Diversion as an approach to help families that already are homeless. Based on our experience, Building Changes believes that many of the same elements of Diversion that have been used successfully to help prevent homelessness now can be applied to help families exit homelessness.

Building Changes’ two largest Diversion pilots, in King County (Seattle) and Pierce County (Tacoma), served a combined 1,898 households with children. Results drawn from our evaluation of the pilots show:

  • About half (49%) of the families found safe housing quickly, averting the need for costlier interventions.

Among those families successfully housed:

  • The vast majority (82.6%) did not return to homelessness within a year.
  • Most (76%) ended up in their own rental unit without a housing subsidy.
  • The median amount of time it took to become housed was 37 days, a shorter duration when compared to other interventions.

Building Changes’ evaluation of the pilots also demonstrates that Diversion is a cost-effective approach for resolving the homelessness of some families:

  • The average cost to get a family housed was $1,668, a lower amount when compared to other interventions.

To help ease a family’s transition out of homelessness, the system may offer one-time financial assistance, such as money to cover first-month’s rent or a security deposit. But not all families need that type of help to become housed. Our evaluation shows:

  • One-third of the families able to obtain safe housing through the Diversion pilot in Pierce County did so without receiving any financial assistance.

By demonstrating the value of Diversion for families that already are homeless, Building Changes is giving systems an additional strategy to consider in their efforts to address family homelessness. This extension of the use of Diversion carries great potential for the field – and for the families being served.

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