This is the first blog post in the Using Federal Resources series, which provides key takeaways for communities to best use federal funds to end homelessness.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on people experiencing homelessness – especially Black, Indigenous, and People of Color – and the programs and systems that serve them. However, it has also spurred Congress to allocate new resources that, if used strategically and equitably, could dramatically reduce and even end homelessness in many communities. One of the most potentially impactful of those resources is the Emergency Housing Voucher (EHVs) program.
What Are EHVs?
EHVs are administered through local public housing authorities (PHAs) in partnership with Continuums of Care (CoCs) and are targeted to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness who are referred by the CoCs or victim service providers. They are similar to Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) but are targeted to this specific population.
As with all the new federal resources available as a result of the pandemic stimulus funding, it is vital that communities think strategically about how to implement EHVs to ensure the greatest impact on homelessness. This blog series from the Alliance and other partners will highlight important things that communities should be considering to maximize the impact of EHVs on ending homelessness.
Centering Racial Equity
Due to ongoing and historical structural racism, BIPOC are over-represented among people experiencing homelessness, and the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted those disparities even more. As communities move forward with EHV implementation, they must consider equity implications of their plans from the beginning. To ensure equity in EHV prioritization, develop your approach under the Framework for an Equitable COVID-19 Response.
Essential Collaborations: Housing and Services
Because PHAs will be administering EHVs and must work with CoCs to do so, strong cross-agency partnerships between PHAs and CoCs will be necessary. Part of this partnership should be efforts to streamline housing navigation and move-in processes like documentation requirements, so that CoCs have people ready to go as soon as PHAs have an EHV slot available.
These vouchers should be targeted, to the maximum extent possible, to those people experiencing homelessness who need them the most – and to the extent that this is high-need people, they will need services to get into housing and to maintain stability. To make EHVs work for higher-need people, then, the PHAs and CoCs should also develop partnerships with service agencies in the community.
These service partnerships are particularly important because EHVs do not have specific service dollars attached. PHAs do not traditionally offer robust housing stabilization services, and CoCs are really crisis response systems. Communities, then, must engage other social service and healthcare resources to ensure that people who receive EHVs have access to the supports they need to maintain their housing after placement.
It would be good to map out the service resources available for people experiencing homelessness (e.g., healthcare, behavioral and mental health services, income supplements and supports, employment and training, childcare, nutrition, transportation, etc.) and to plan now ways to leverage those connections for people who receive EHVs and bust through potential bureaucratic barriers that inhibit effective housing.
Many programs funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) can and should be leveraged to provide those supports. Since there are many different HHS resources available in any community – e.g., community health centers, PATH outreach programs, managed-care organizations (MCOs) and more – you can plan how best to help clients access those services. Options include: case conferencing among key housing and service entities; using “boundary spanners” who can tap into the appropriate resource in various agencies as needed; assigning households a case manager who handles service navigation; or creating formal or informal partnerships among the agencies involved.
Sharing Best Practices
Some CoCs and some PHAs have extensive experience in overcoming barriers to finding affordable housing in tight rental markets. For CoCs, this often includes skills in housing navigation and landlord engagement specifically on behalf of people experiencing homelessness who get into both rapid re-housing (RRH) and permanent supportive housing (PSH). Many CoC providers have also become skilled at facilitating shared housing arrangements to make rent most affordable for formerly homeless households with limited incomes. Because CoCs and PHAs share the same goal (safe and stable housing for the people they serve), both systems can benefit from the skill-sharing an EHV partnership can bring.
Ultimately, EHVs provide our communities and our nation a chance to right an historic wrong: to get a significant number of people experiencing homelessness into stable housing AND to achieve race equity in the process. It is imperative that we do not let bureaucratic hurdles or system silos stop this work. PHAs and CoCs share a common goal of equitable access to stable housing, and EHVs can be just the catalyst communities need to help both agencies better achieve that common goal.