Volume 6 Number 9
October 2009

In this Issue
Research-Oriented Leadership Welcomed
Analysts Reveal Housing Inventory Changes
Updating the National Perspective on Homelessness
HomeBase Focuses on Homelessness Prevention
In the next issue of ResearchWorks

HomeBase Focuses on Homelessness Prevention

HomeBase just keeps getting noticed. This innovative homeless prevention program in New York City (NYC) won the 2009 HUD Secretary's Opportunity and Empowerment Award, part of the American Planning Association's National Awards for Planning program. Two months later, on July 9, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, and NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS) Commissioner Robert V. Hess announced that HomeBase is receiving $73.9 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus funds. About $51.5 million will support HomeBase prevention efforts; $22.4 million will sustain the city's closely related rapid re-housing efforts. This award makes NYC the nation's largest grantee of stimulus funds for homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing programs.1

HomeBase was the brainchild of former DHS Commissioner Linda Gibbs, who reasoned that data the city collected on the characteristics of the homeless who came to shelters could be used to prevent homelessness. DHS subsequently transformed its approach from reactive to proactive, and HomeBase became a national model. In 2006, the Harvard Kennedy School's Ash Institute chose the program as a finalist in its Innovations in American Government Awards. Many features of the HomeBase approach — such as stopping homelessness before it starts and using legal services and landlord mediation — were incorporated in the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act, which became law on May 20, 2009.

"Through our innovative community-based prevention programs, we are working to keep families where they belong — in their homes," said Mayor Bloomberg.

Since its inception, HomeBase has provided more than $9.6 million in flexible, short-term financial assistance to families at risk of shelter entry. Through HomeBase, more than 15,300 households to date have received housing mediation assistance, financial counseling, and employment training. In each case, the program's work is considered a success if the individual or family stays out of shelter housing for a year. Of the assisted households, 9 out of 10 have remained in their homes a year after receiving service. At $3,000 per household, the average cost of HomeBase services is just one-twelfth the cost of housing a family for one year in a conventional shelter.

A picture of a poster that is strategically placed and that tells New Yorkers facing a housing crisis how to contact HomeBase.HomeBase has three goals: to prevent homelessness from occurring, to minimize the length of stays in homeless shelters, and to prevent repeated shelter stays. The program stabilizes households by innovatively combining community-based service providers, a flexible array of services, and data analysis aimed at identifying clients and triggering housing interventions before a crisis occurs. Community organizations — such as Catholic Charities, Partnership for the Homeless, and Citizens Advice — identify families at risk of homelessness and enroll them in the program before they become homeless. Once enrolled, clients have a counselor who acts as case manager to help families preserve their housing. Short-term, flexible financial assistance is available to those at risk of homelessness. HomeBase also works with homeless individuals and families who apply for shelter. In this circumstance, program activities called "diversion services" offer practical alternatives to entering a traditional shelter. For individuals and families that do become homeless, the emphasis is on rapid re-housing.

HomeBase tailors service plans to address each household's needs. Counselors select from a range of applicable services: case management; legal services (anti-eviction); money management and household budgeting seminars; day care; job placement; and education, such as job training, study for the General Educational Development (GED) tests, and English as a Second Language (ESL). HomeBase also refers clients to other programs such as mental health, substance abuse, and immigration service providers, all of which contribute to a long-term plan for housing stability.

Early identification of at-risk families is crucial to the HomeBase approach. This detection is based on an understanding of precipitating factors and high-risk populations, such as families who have been homeless before, who are sharing crowded housing, or whose head of household is young. Clients must also be at imminent risk of entering shelter, with a documented threat to housing stability; have household income that does not exceed 200 percent of the federal poverty level; and live in the HomeBase service area (anywhere in NYC) or be currently living in an institution and returning to the community.

To further promote homeless prevention services, DHS has launched a public education campaign in the community districts most at risk of homelessness to coincide with the peak shelter-demand season and the citywide expansion of HomeBase. Appealing posters tell people to dial 311 to speak with the nearest HomeBase location. Teaming up with other city agencies, including the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the campaign strives to reframe the purpose of shelter; engage former and likely shelter entrants in homelessness solutions before they reach the point of crisis; and engage community members, landlords, and service providers in homelessness prevention.

"Many New Yorkers now realize that temporary emergency shelter is not their only option," said Commissioner Hess. "Every day, prevention efforts positively impact the lives of clients by offering the services they need to regain stability and maintain independence. Shelter is not a home, and through HomeBase we truly make a difference by helping families stay in their communities whenever possible."

For more information, visit the NYC Department of Homeless Services at www.nyc.gov/html/dhs/html/atrisk/homebase.shtml.

A picture of a fire extinguisher and a smoke alarm.A Focus on Safe Housing. In 1998, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention awarded funds to 14 state health departments to implement Smoke Alarm Installation and Fire Safety Education programs. This initiative included installation of lithium-powered "10-year" smoke alarms in 427 homes considered to be at high risk for fires and injuries. The study monitored the performance and maintenance of the alarms by residents. Eight to 10 years after installation of these smoke alarms, 33 percent were functional, 37 percent were missing, and 30 percent were present but nonfunctional. The Evaluation of the "10-Year" Smoke Alarm Project by the National Center for Healthy Housing identifies factors contributing to missing, nonfunctional, and tampered-with alarms. The report can be downloaded, free of charge, at www.nchh.org/Research/Archived-Research-Projects/Smoke-Alarm-Study.aspx.

1 Office of the Mayor, New York City, Press Release, 9 July 2009.