In 2008, South Oakland Shelter (SOS) initiated a redesign of its supportive services for people struggling with homelessness and began working with previous shelter clients to prevent repeated episodes. They provided departing clients with an array of services and support after exiting into the community or while receiving housing assistance. This program substantially increased services available to former clients, including ongoing individualized case management; education and life skills-based classes; mentoring; and support groups.
SOS’s Continuum of Care Initiative provides the additional support that individuals and families need to achieve stability following an episode of homelessness. Additionally, SOS began to implement a structured assessment tool to better evaluate specific barriers to long-term re-stabilization. This assessment also serves as a programmatic evaluation tool, helping SOS adjust supportive services to ensure that clients are receiving the most effective assistance to avoid future episodes of homelessness.
South Oakland Shelter (SOS): That Could Never Be Me
The Oakland County Taskforce on Homeless and Affordable Housing (OCTHAH) reports the state of Michigan’s homeless recidivism rate to be approximately 40 percent. Thus, for every 10 individuals that experience homelessness once, four will experience it again in their lifetime. This trend was corroborated by our agency as South Oakland Shelter regularly sees the same clients returning for shelter services.
South Oakland Shelter determined that the primary contributing factors for individuals and families experiencing repeat episodes are lack of consistent employment and realistic housing options. With this understanding, South Oakland Shelter implemented a housing assistance program to provide over $600,000 in financial assistance to rapidly rehouse clients and provide short- to medium-term rental subsidies. Alongside this effort, the Continuum of Care Initiative was implemented. South Oakland Shelter also has several proposals pending to support a Financial Stability Program, in an effort to continue improving on this work.
South Oakland Shelter’s program delivery committee, made up of board members, staff, volunteers, church leaders, and former clients, reviewed and evaluated the services at South Oakland Shelter, participated in research, and provided key recommendations to strengthen follow-up services. The program was also designed with feedback from homeless clients who had experienced multiple episodes of homelessness.
South Oakland Shelter’s mission is to reduce the impact and prevalence of homelessness in our community. Our objective is to ensure that minimally 75% of all homeless clients will exit shelter with stable employment and stable housing, and that at least 75% of these clients will remain stable for one year or more. Our approach is to rehouse homeless clients as rapidly as possible, and to continue providing all clients with supportive services, even after they leave the shelter, to help them avoid destabilization.
South Oakland Shelter hired a full-time Continuum of Care (CoC) coordinator to meet with all exiting clients, conduct exit surveys, psychosocial assessments, and determine what immediate resources the client may need. The CoC coordinator contacted clients on a monthly basis for 12 months to assess their level of stability and to offer any additional assistance from the agency that may be required to help maintain their housing status. At the end of 12 months, the CoC coordinator conducted a home visit with each client to ensure that the client is stabilized and not immediately at risk of experiencing another episode of homelessness. The client’s status is recorded in a database to help the agency understand the long-term impact of the supportive services. More than 15 volunteers from the community were then recruited to provide exiting clients with classes, such as budgeting, financial literacy, stress management, and GED training.
The evaluation of this program is in progress as long-term results are just beginning to become available. Over the coming year, South Oakland Shelter will examine the relationship between 12-month success rates and various supportive services accessed by specific clients in an effort to increase capacity around the most effective services. It should be noted that since the Continuum of Care Initiative has been put in place, a substantial amount of additional support has been provided to exiting clients.
All clients are asked to fill out surveys evaluating the program during their stay at the shelter, as well as after they receive housing assistance. These evaluations provide staff with information on shifting trends in community needs, so that efforts can be made to make services available that will meet the greatest needs at any given time.
In early 2010, South Oakland Shelter was awarded a $45,000 grant from The Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan to jump-start the Continuum of Care Initiative. This program will be an ongoing priority within South Oakland Shelter’s Three- to Five-Year Strategic Plan. South Oakland Shelter continues to apply for multiple government and foundation grants to increase these efforts in an attempt to ensure that all measurable goals will be achieved.
Homeless individuals and families have immediate access to a supportive environment where they can work to re-establish stability. Additionally, clients have access to evidence-based programs to ensure that they won’t have to experience homelessness again. In 2009, South Oakland Shelter served over 300 individuals, of which 62 were supported through a housing assistance program, and 123 successfully completed the transitional shelter program. These clients showed initiative in their employment search, in locating affordable housing, and in working hard to better their situation. More than 50% percent of the clients exited the shelter into stable, long-term housing. In addition, 60% of adult clients who entered without employment left with employment and/or increased income. Soon, SOS will have access to long-term outcome measures, including one-year recidivism rates for clients who have accessed the Continuum of Care Initiative programs.
South Oakland Shelter Website: www.southoaklandshelter.org