‘First response’ strategy for families gets boost across the state

Published: June 29, 2016

New Washington Youth & Families Fund grants will strengthen Diversion services statewide for families experiencing homelessness.

Luanda AraiLuanda Arai

Four nonprofits across Washington will launch or enhance Diversion services for homeless families with new grants awarded by Building Changes through the Washington Youth & Families Fund. Luanda Arai, Building Changes senior manager in charge of statewide grantmaking and capacity building, answered a few questions about the grants.

First of all, what is Diversion?

Diversion is the homeless system’s “first response” to resolving a family’s crisis. We want the length of time that a family is homeless to be as brief as possible and, whenever possible, we want to draw on families’ own strengths and resources to get them back into stable housing. That’s what Diversion does—families get the help they need quickly through creative problem-solving in combination with a “light touch” of services and one-time financial assistance.

Why target Diversion for these statewide grants?

Our hope is to accelerate the adoption of Diversion across the state. Our Diversion pilots in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties over the past two years have shown good success rates for families. Among the families that exited our King County pilot, for example, 62 percent were stably housed, which is an encouraging result. At a systems level, Diversion has helped the homeless system be more responsive and make better use of its limited resources. There is a high demand for homeless services. Diversion can help many families quickly move to stable housing, meaning that higher-cost responses such as emergency shelters are reserved for those who have no other housing options.

What’s new and different about these grants?

This is an opportunity to share what we’ve learned from the King, Pierce and Snohomish pilots and adapt those lessons to communities that look quite different. Maybe the communities are not as densely populated, or they have fewer resources, or they have different demographics in terms of family composition, race/ethnicity, etc. By partnering with the grantees, we can see what it takes to do Diversion effectively in those areas.

What the nonprofits learn from doing Diversion can potentially help them target all of their homeless resources more effectively. Up until now, funding for Diversion around the state has been relatively short-term. These grants fund Diversion for three years. That is enough time to prove the value of the strategy and empower nonprofits to approach other funders about supporting Diversion services beyond the duration of our grant.

What are we hoping to learn?

We’re hoping to learn more about the cost of Diversion and what it takes to successfully implement the strategy, as well as get more evidence on how effective it is at keeping families from returning to homelessness. Given the geographical diversity of the grantees, we also want to understand how to adapt Diversion to different communities, such as what works in rural areas and what kinds of resources can be used in smaller communities.

The data we collect will tell us how many people receive Diversion services, how many are successfully diverted, how long that process takes, and how the short-term financial assistance is being used. We will examine the rate of those who return to homelessness, which will help us evaluate if Diversion in those communities is effective over the long term. We will also look at outcome data disaggregated by race to understand the effectiveness of Diversion for people of color experiencing homelessness. If there are disparate impacts, the grantees will be in a position through peer learning to work with one another to better understand and address the disparities.

Washington Youth & Families Fund Service Grants

Grants totaling $934,822 have been awarded to the following four nonprofits in the state of Washington. The three-year grants will increase each provider’s capacity to provide Diversion services and administer flexible funds that are integrated in their community’s coordinated entry system. Diversion services include crisis counseling and support, mediation, dispute resolution, and resource navigation.

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