Rapid Rehousing: An Effective Tool to End Homelessness

The District’s rapid rehousing program for families, the Family Re-Housing and Stabilization Program (FRSP), serves approximately 1,300 families each year and aims to minimize the amount of time families spend in shelter by supporting rapid exit back to permanent housing. The concept is simple: provide families with assistance with housing search, security deposits, temporary rental assistance and a host of stabilization services.

This is housing first. We know from decades of peer-reviewed study that housing, in and of itself, is therapeutic. Housing is foundational to supporting families to stabilize and access opportunity.

At a recent DC Council hearing, Sharon McDonald, a Senior Fellow for Families and Children at the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), who has worked on issues of poverty and homelessness for nearly three decades, shared lessons learned and the critical role that rapid rehousing has played in ending homelessness. Following is an excerpt from her insightful testimony.

“Rapid rehousing helps most people permanently escape homelessness; it can significantly reduce the length of time people spend homeless; it allows crisis housing and shelters to function more effectively; and, it costs less than other interventions and thus can be used to assist more people.

Rapid rehousing is not a substitute for investing in permanent affordable housing. The National Alliance to End Homelessness strongly advocates for expanding investments in affordable housing at the federal level. But, investment in permanent rental assistance must not be at the expense of providing effective interventions to people experiencing homelessness, nor should rapid rehousing be expected to perform as permanent rental assistance.

The smartest approach to solving homelessness in a resource-constrained environment is targeting available permanent rent subsidies where they are most critically needed — typically those with the most intensive and chronic needs — and providing rapid rehousing to the scale needed so that most people exit homelessness quickly to assure sufficient flow out of the homeless system and back into the community.

When there is an investment in helping people quickly exit homelessness, emergency shelter beds turn over and can be used to assist other people in need. Failure to invest in helping people exit shelter can lead to homeless programs functioning more like permanent housing; and, when people don’t exit there is nowhere for people in crisis to go, including people fleeing domestic violence.

The goals of rapid rehousing are to help people get quickly reconnected to housing and to prevent the subsequent episodes of homelessness. The Alliance has established benchmarks and standards with Abt Associates, the VA and HUD detailing how quality rapid rehousing should be implemented. These standards include assertive services to help people locate housing options that will be sustainable to them long term as well as follow-up assistance to promote housing stability. For many, this necessitates helping people find and remain connected to employment.”

Ms. McDonald’s point is clear. The homeless system needs to be able to provide safe shelter and support a transition to housing as quickly as possible. Since 2016, FRSP has been effective at doing that — 86% of families who exit rapid rehousing do not return to our homeless services system within two years. While this is consistent with national data, we know there is always more work to do to support our families. Stay tuned for an upcoming post where we will talk about recent program improvements.

Jerrianne Anthony, MPA 
Deputy Administrator for Homeless Families
Family Service Administration, DC Department of Human Services