Diversion: Flexibility Fosters Creativity in Housing Young People

Centralized Diversion Fund (CDF) program houses nearly 170 young people since launch!

There is an underlying misconception in a lot of youth work: People need a whole myriad of services before they can be housed. But in its first 7 months of being launched, the Centralized Diversion Fund (CDF) program is already proving that to be a myth. CDF has already housed 161 young people across all four Anchor Communities in creative, immediate and unique ways that are often not possible with the traditional homeless housing system.

Screenshot of Public CDF Dashboard.

The CDF supports young people who are experiencing housing instability in finding quick, sustainable solutions to those barriers, often preventing homelessness before it starts. At its core, CDF is a strengths-based approach where providers partner with young people to creatively explore and plan for housing options outside of the already taxed homelessness housing system. This is done by providing swift, low-barrier financial  assistance for housing-related hiccups when needed.

Across the four communities, initial demographic data is showing that young people who identify as Hispanic/Latinx represent a large portion of requests at (27%). White young people represent 40 percent of requests, and Black or African American represent 22 percent. (Data got you curious? Check-out the CDF Dashboard here to see real-time data including more on demographics). 

It is all but clear that one population benefiting from CDF most so far is young people who are pregnant and/or parenting, who make up 44 percent of all requests submitted so far. Young families are often left out of many services designed for young people – but that doesn’t happen with CDF. 

In one example, a young parent with a newborn had gotten approved for an apartment but had nowhere to stay until their move-in date that was 3 weeks away. CDF was used to purchase a hotel for that time so this young family could be off the streets and safe until their move-in date. 

CDF can be used for basically anything – provided that the client meets eligibility and there’s a quick and direct pathway to housing outside the homelessness system. Since August, the Anchor Communities have used the flexibility of the program to get creative with housing young people. That includes, but is not limited to: 

  • Helping college students find/maintain stable housing. One young person was staying in shelter and had just enrolled in their local community college. After finding a roommate and place to live closer to campus, CDF was used to help with move-in costs and furniture. They were housed shortly after. 
  • Supporting folks exiting the foster care system. Another young person had just enrolled in extended foster care after exiting foster care (EFC) forced them to stay in a shelter. They were able to identify an apartment to live in that would be supported by EFC  ongoing, but just needed CDF to help with the administrative costs that the EFC was not able to pay for. 
  • Reuniting/reconnecting families – near and far. CDF was used to help a young person relocate to Puerto Rico, where they would reunite with their family, after the young person entered housing instability due to COVID. All that was needed was confirmation from the family in Puerto Rico, plane ticket and plan. 
  • Stabilizing the young person’s family. We already talked about how CDF is creatively housing current and expectant parents, but CDF can also have a ripple effect of benefit for other people in the young person’s network. In one example, a young person wanted to move in with their family member who just didn’t have a big enough space for them. Since this family member only received SSI benefits, they couldn’t afford the necessary re-housing fees for finding a space that worked – even with the young person helping with costs ongoing. CDF was used for the move-in costs for this family to be able to reunite with each other. 

Diversion changes the nature of service delivery by putting the power in the hands of the clients and honoring the fact that they know most about what they need. It allows space for creative housing solutions like those listed above, and others that are yet to even be thought of. Diversion’s low-barrier approach also makes it easier for clients to get the help they need in a more timely manner compared to other assistance programs because they don’t have to go.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Centralized Diversion Fund program and how it’s impacting Anchor Communities, please email us at kserantes@awayhomewa.org

ACI: Pierce County– Increasing Housing Placement Rates By 30%

Congratulations to Pierce County on achieving the of their first reducing process measure—increasing housing placement rates by 30% by the end of September 2020. With assistance from the ACI Coaching team, Pierce County set this goal and began working on it in mid-June. A big factor in choosing this goal was the level of success and ease of implementation that they have seen from other communities across the country that were working with one of our partner agencies—Community Solutions. Consistently increasing housing placements is critical for communities to see reductions in homelessness overall in their systems

Pierce County leaned into this reducing goal, and three workgroups were created:

  1. Maximizing Diversion Success
  2. Increasing permanent housing exits
  3. Accessible housing programs

The Increasing Permanent Housing Exits workgroup conducted a focus group with youth and young adults in Pierce County to understand what they need to remain housed once they transition into permanent housing. The Maximizing Diversion Success subcommittee focused on ensuring the right service providers in Pierce County were trained to access the CDF resource.

Increasing the quality of data collection has been a tremendously helpful resource to communities during the reducing phase. In addition, the Pierce County Core Team increased the frequency that they updated their housing placement data so that they could see week-by-week breakdowns. These frequent updates allowed the Core Team to be aware of how many youths and young adults were exiting homelessness in real time.

Now that Piece County has achieved their first reducing process measure, they have moved on to their new goal of reducing homelessness for youth of color by 30% by March 2021. Going forward, Pierce County is thinking about what other reducing projects that they can implement that are more influenced by the outcomes of the homeless system and what needs to be done to reach a functional end to youth homelessness by the end of 2022. Every goal communities hit should be intentional about positively moving the data to see a reduction in the amount of youth coming into the system and an increase in those exiting.

Launching the Centralized Diversion Fund

To end youth and young adult homelessness, we need a variety of solutions in our toolbox. Young people’s situations are unique, and that means communities must build the capacity to respond to all sorts of needs. That’s why we created the Centralized Diversion Fund, a source of flexible financial assistance to help secure housing for young people.

Diversion is a creative problem-solving approach where service providers empower young people to take the necessary steps to address their unique situation and secure housing quickly. Providers let young people take the lead in identifying the housing solution that will work for them, and support young people to implement their housing plan. This allows communities to use creative conversations paired with funding to resolve young people’s immediate housing needs, rather than waiting for housing units to open up.

Diversion can mean many different types of support, from connecting young people with family or friends who can house them, to negotiating with a landlord. At times, diversion can lead to a housing placement without any financial assistance, but as we’ve heard from young people before, sometimes what they truly need to stay housed is cash. That’s where the Centralized Diversion Fund comes in.

Our systems typically make it too difficult for no- and low-income folks to access the type of funding they need. Flexibility is key to respond to the needs described by young people, yet program models are often too prescriptive. Programs can also be tied to arbitrary measures of worthiness, like employment, and ignore the lived realities of people experiencing poverty. We want to remove these barriers and meet young people where they are, so the Centralized Diversion Fund can be accessed by any unaccompanied young person (ages 12-24) experiencing homelessness or at imminent risk of homelessness who needs financial assistance to secure housing.

I have led diversion programs for young people before, and they come up with so many unique housing solutions. In one instance, a young person had a aunt in Oakland who she could stay with if she could get there, so diversion paid for repairs to her car and gas cards for the trip. In another, a young person’s entire family was experiencing homelessness – they had broken up because it was easier to access services that way. We paid for that young person’s first and last month’s rent and deposit to move into an apartment, and the whole family was reunified and housed as a result. The solutions are already within young people, and our role is to provide the resources they need to make the solutions possible.

After months of planning and securing private and public funds, we’ve launching the Centralized Diversion Fund this summer in our four Anchor Communities: Pierce, Spokane, Walla Walla, and Yakima. We’ve selected a local organization to administer the funds in each of these communities, and we’re training service providers in each community to engage young people in diversion conversations and request financial assistance from the fund when it’s needed.

With COVID-19 upending the way we work, our team had to get creative and find ways to keep moving towards a summer launch. We believe that the fund is more important than ever in this moment because the pandemic has impacted so many young people’s ability to earn money. It’s a critical time to ensure young people have access to cash, especially with the end of the eviction moratorium looming ahead of us on October 15. We launched the Centralized Diversion Fund on July 30, 2020!.

When young people can access funds to quickly address their housing crises, they are able to stay out of the homeless system. That in turn preserves resources for young people who have no alternative solutions, and results in faster housing placements within the homeless system. We believe the Centralized Diversion Fund and other cash assistance programs will play a key role in achieving our mission to end youth and young adult homelessness.