On any particular night in January 2015, more than 500,000 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States. This means that these people spent the night outside, in emergency shelters or transition housing programs. While these figures represent a drop of 2% from the previous year, the issue of homelessness continues to be significant in the country and calls for appropriate policies and programs to help control it ( Cunningham et al., 2015 ). Many communities throughout the country respond to this matter with at least one housing and services program including permanent supportive housing, rapid re-housing, transition housing, and emergency shelters ( Chambers and Bonk, 2012 ). In the past decade, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) have placed emphasis on rapid rehousing as the most effective policy to achieving the national goal of eliminating family homelessness by 2020. These organizations, together with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services have combined efforts to facilitate the expansion of rapid re-housing as a component of community coordinated programs. This paper evaluates the issue of homelessness as well as the rapid re-housing policy.
The main objective of rapid re-housing is removing the hurdles to moving families quickly into permanent housing by offering financial aid for expenses associated with housing and housing location services. Unlike the process adopted by other transitional housing programs, rapid re-housing does not give services to prepare homeless families before permanent placement ( Cunningham et al., 2015 ). This policy uses a housing first strategy, where homeless people are placed in permanent housing, and they are kept stable only after they are there.
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Historical Background of Rapid Re-Housing
As suggested by the name, rapid re-housing is a strategy introduced to move homeless people into permanent housing as fast as possible. Rapid re-housing was first implemented by local service providers who were addressing the problem of homelessness in their communities. These providers realized that thousands of families lived in transition housing, shelters, and other temporary forms of housing because they were unable to pay for permanent affordable housing ( Evans et al., 2016 ). Even though these temporary housing programs were successful in minimizing the number of homeless families in the streets, the number of homeless people increased dramatically from 2006 and peaked in 2010. As a result, these programs could not accommodate most of the additional families, and rapid re-housing became vital in managing this situation.
Some of the first rapid re-housing programs include the Shelter to Independent Living program in Pennsylvania, the Rapid Exit program in Minnesota, and Beyond Shelter in California. These programs offered short-term financial aid and “rapid exit” strategies for homeless families ( Evans et al., 2016 ). On seeing the level of success of these initiatives, other communities also decided to set up their own versions of rapid re-housing and this strategy is now considered to be a crucial response to homelessness.
Developments in Policy
In 2008, the United States HUD started taking applications for the Rapid Re-Housing Demonstration Project and ended up providing more than $20 million to twenty-three communities to experiment on rapid re-housing. The experiences of these communities were intended to serve as an important resource for similar programs to serve people using the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Programs (HPRPs) ( Chambers and Bonk, 2012 ). The data obtained from the initial programs would be used to evaluate promising policies that may be replicated in other communities. In the following year, Congress distributed $1.5 billion for the HPRPs which eventually helped about 1.4 million people experiencing homelessness over a period of three years ( Evans et al., 2016 ). In that same year, Congress implemented the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act, which reinforced the McKinney-Vento homeless assistance programs offered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This law also recognized rapid re-housing as a legitimate and effective policy for managing the level of homelessness in the country.
In 2012, The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) started giving grants via the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program that offers rapid re-housing and homelessness prevention aid to the families of veterans. The program served more than 20,000 veteran families during that same year ( Evans et al., 2016 ). In 2014, the VA increased their effort to eliminate homelessness among veterans and their families via rapid re-housing and took application for SSVF “surge” grants in seventy-eight communities.
Finally, in 2015, the HUD released a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for the Fiscal Year 2015 Continuum of Care Competition that focuses on communities using Housing First programs, such as rapid re-housing ( Evans et al., 2016 ). It should be noted that the rapid re-housing policy gives housing assistance based on the “deservingness” of the recipient. However, the factors considered to establish one’s deservingness are still being refined in order to avoid instances of unfairness and discrimination.
Rapid Re-Housing and Inequalities
The most obvious element of inequality is race when it comes to Rapid Re-Housing as homelessness is intimately associated with racial issues. For example, many studies consider homelessness to be a symptom of structural racism, and is, therefore, a desecration of the United States obligation according to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Two out three families in King County who are homeless are people of color ( Cunningham et al., 2015 ). Additionally, Blacks are five times likelier to experience homeless in this county as compared to Whites. Therefore, rapid re-housing not only seeks to reduce homelessness in various communities but also remove racial disparities concerning housing. This policy seeks to bring about racial justice in housing in the United States.
Race issues are not the only problems associated with; rather, disability and gender disparities are also evident among homeless families. In 2015, 38% of homeless people were found to be experiencing at least form of physical or psychological disability. Considering that less than 20% of non-institutionalized adults have a disability, it is accurate to state that the disabled are overrepresented in the homeless group ( Cunningham et al., 2015 ). It follows that the rapid re-housing policy should give the disabled special considerations because they are more likely to experience poverty as compared to those who are not disabled. Working-age women are also more likely to be in poverty as compared to their male counterparts because of structural discrimination in employment opportunities. The situation gets worse with homeless women who have children. The policy also needs to give such families priority during rapid exit projects.
The rapid re-housing program removes the hurdles to moving families quickly into permanent housing by offering financial aid for costs linked with housing and housing location services. In doing so, this program has been successful in significantly reducing the level of homelessness in the United States. Before it became a national strategy, this policy was implemented in various communities under different names and was found to be effective as compared to other similar strategies. Given that it was new at the time, the program has had to undergo several changes to make it more efficient and cut on costs. The government has contributed considerably to this course through such agencies as the United States Department of Human and Urban Development. The money provided by these agencies has been used to move millions of families into permanent housing. Finally, the implementation of this policy also helps the government to adhere to regulations concerning discrimination and inequality since most of the people experiencing homelessness in the country belong to various minority groups.
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Cunningham, M., Gillespie, S., & Anderson, J. (2015). Rapid Re-Housing: What the Research Says.
Evans, W. N., Sullivan, J. X., & Wallskog, M. (2016). The impact of homelessness prevention programs on homelessness. Science , 353 (6300), 694-699.