Diversion Housing Program: Strengths-Based Support for Households

What is Diversion?
by Greta Brackman, Coordinated Entry Specialist

I recently met with a two-parent family experiencing homelessness (let’s call them the Smith family).  Both adults have documented disabilities, but only one has begun receiving their Supplemental Security Income through Social Security.  The other is still waiting.  In the meantime, work is very limited due to their disability, and as a result, the family has been unable to find an affordable place to call home.  They have been staying in a tent with their infant.

It is said that in Pierce County, it takes a minimum of 80 hours per week at minimum wage to truly afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent.  It is also known that throughout Pierce County, there only exists a fraction of the affordable housing necessary to meet the needs of those who work lower-paying jobs or who are unable to work or increase their income.  This creates a gap in housing availability for lower-income residents.

In the recent past, the Smith family would have called the centralized intake screening line, been assessed, and added to a lengthy wait list with the hope of a referral to a housing program.  While this process remains, Pierce County has made great strides toward a housing approach which relies on community resources and clients’ natural supports.  It assists to lessen the housing gap for those who may be successful without the aid of longer-term housing programs.

How does this work?

Households experiencing homelessness call our screening line and, if eligible, they are scheduled an appointment.  During that appointment, a Coordinated Entry Specialist engages in conversation with the household to learn about their experience, their support systems, their income, expected outcomes, etc.  In this conversation, households gain clarity about their options to resolve their homelessness.  If they have a housing option they can pursue immediately, the Coordinated Entry Specialist will work with them to support this pursuit.  It is up to each household to decide whether they would like to take this approach or wait for a program referral.

The Smith family, with their very limited income, created a plan that would allow for temporary housing stability until the other adult receives their Social Security.  They have a family friend who agreed to let them stay for 60 days.  To pay for their stay, the Smith family contributes a portion of their income toward the cost of food for the home.  However, they did need additional assistance to move in.  Associated Ministries, using allocated funds from Pierce County, agreed to cover the cost of the homeowner’s electric bill in lieu of the household paying a deposit.  Rather than waiting for a housing referral, the Smiths were able to engage their support system and think creatively about their options.  Within a month, they were temporarily housed in a safe place where they could save some money.

Why does this approach matter?

Pierce County has limited financial resources to meet the needs of those currently experiencing homelessness.  There is no guarantee that someone will be referred to a program, and shelters are consistently full.  Not long ago, the Smiths could have waited for several months to be referred to a program.  Now, they have options they may have never pursued.

Diversion is a light in the dark for many.  The Diversion approach honors each person’s experience and works to support their necessary steps forward – steps that are determined by them.  While there remains uncertainty about the future of housing, Diversion encourages households to tap into their strengths and supports.  At Associated Ministries, we are honored to lead the way forward with our community partners, helping to empower households for a more stable future.

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