United States Interagency Council on Homelessness - No on should experience homelessness. No one should be without a safe, stable place to call home.
Retooling the Homeless Crisis Response System

August 21, 2014
Retooling the Homeless Crisis Response System is Critical to Ending and Preventing Homelessness
In this video, Laura Green Zeilinger talks about what it means to end homelessness and how we can retool community systems to better respond to the crisis of homelessness. 

Responding to the Crisis of Homelessness

A Message from Laura Green Zeilinger, USICH Executive Director

We write and talk a lot about homelessness as a social problem and what we know about the solutions.  We are compelled to take on this very complex problem because we see the people who are affected.  In a recently released  90-second video, Rethink Homelessness helped millions of viewers look past the label of "homeless" and see people.


At an individual level, the turmoil that comes from not having a safe place that is home is a crisis.  It is a crisis that without adequate resolution gets worse.  Although there are programs that provide housing and services for people, we will never have an adequate response at the pace and scale needed as long as it depends on people in crisis being required to navigate multiple programs in an attempt to get their needs met.  Responding in a person-centered way to homelessness requires that programs are operating as a system.  Making this shift is not simple, but it is being done in more and more communities throughout the country, and a systems approach is essential to achieving an end to homelessness.

Ending homelessness means providing a pathway to stable and permanent housing now for people who are experiencing homelessness. It also means changing the way we respond when people have a housing crisis so that we can prevent homelessness whenever possible or otherwise ensure that homelessness is a rare, brief, and nonrecurring experience.  We do this by helping individuals and families keep or quickly transition back to permanent housing with access to needed services.  This response is what in Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness we call the "homeless crisis response system." It is the overall system where coordinated assessment, homeless programs, and mainstream programs logically fit together to provide a meaningful solution for people.


With true coordination and collaboration, homeless providers and mainstream systems can work together to create a seamless response that does not expect people to navigate multiple programs in an effort to get their needs met. Instead, communities can create a system that:


    is easily accessible and known throughout the community

    is equipped to reach out to people as necessary

    assesses the needs of all members of a household

    provides service and support options based on what people want and need

    connects people with shelter or housing and service supports without barriers to entry

Building this system requires that all stakeholders in a community work together. You are a part of the system. Understand your value. Understand where you or your program fits in, where your seat at the table is, and invite others whose involvement you need. System-level transformation is not easy nor will it happen overnight; but it can happen and is happening in communities across the country. Together you will build the crisis response system necessary for achieving an end to homelessness in your community. 


Go to Laura's Blog.


Retooling the Homeless Crisis Response System - In Depth


Communities shift approaches, re-orient programs and services to end homelessness instead of only managing the problem.

Historically, people experiencing homelessness have had to navigate an uncoordinated set of services and programs to obtain assistance, with many of the available programs and services oriented towards managing the symptoms or experience of homelessness rather than providing rapid connections to stable and permanent housing that would end homelessness.  Often, permanent housing was only offered at the end of a linear process or the achievement of particular services milestones. This resulted in many individuals and families remaining in homelessness, when--for any number of reasons--they could not achieve the high barrier to entry into permanent housing.


Over the past several years however, many communities have shifted their approach, providing services that are focused on ending, not managing homelessness. Communities are retooling the homeless crisis response system to coordinate services and reorient programs to a Housing First approach that emphasizes rapid connection to permanent housing, while mitigating the negative experience of homelessness.


Along with being easily accessible and well-known throughout the community, a crisis response system must be able to outreach effectively, provide meaningful and safe emergency services, as well as a rapid pathway to permanent housing with needed services for households at-risk of or experiencing homelessness.

Follow the link a more in depth look into what makes an effective homeless crisis response system.



Read more.



Register for Our Sept. 10 Family Connection Webinar
family connection webinar september 10 2014 HUD USICH


Join USICH and HUD on September 10, 2014, for a webinar titled
Family Connection: Tailored Interventions and Assistance. This is the second informational webinar in a series on building systems to end family homelessness.

Millions of extremely low-income households do not have access to affordable housing, which puts them at-risk for housing instability and the types of crises that can result in homelessness.As a result,  the 2013 Point-In-Time Count found 222,197 people in families-an estimated 70,960 households-experiencing homelessness on a single night in January.


In order to end family homelessness, community systems must be in place to connect families and their children to interventions and assistance that are tailored to the unique needs of everyone in the household. This webinar is intended to provide communities and stakeholders with information on how to utilize a range of resources and program models to better serve families, including rapid re-housing, permanent supportive housing, affordable housing, and transitional housing. 


Featured Presenters: 

Katie Kitchin, Community Alliance for the Homeless, Memphis, TN
Gwen McQueeney, Northern Virginia Family Service, Manassas, VA

Todd Shenk, HUD

Lindsay Knotts, USICH


Space is limited. Register now!

News from Our Partners

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issues notice on prioritizing persons experiencing chronic homelessness in permanent supportive housing and record keeping requirements for chronic homeless status.

The Family & Youth Services Bureau within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Children & Families
publishes its Report to Congress on the Runaway and Homeless Youth Program for fiscal years 2012 and 2013. The report chronicles the successes of grantees in delivering services, such as housing and shelter, emergency care and counseling, to youth without a safe and stable place to call home.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announces $300 Million in grants under the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, which will serve approximately 115,000 Veterans and their families experiencing or at-risk of homelessness. 

HUD's Community Development Block Grant program celebrates 40 years of providing decent affordable housing and services to the most vulnerable in our communities, as well creating jobs through the expansion and retention of businesses. Learn more about #CDBGturns40 



The Office of Early Childhood Development within the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Administration for Children & Families published Promising Practices for Children Experiencing Homelessness: A Look at Two States. The resource examines the effects of homelessness on young children,
Federal initiatives that expanded access to early care and learning for young children experiencing homelessness, and efforts in Massachusetts and Oregon to implement innovative policies to improve early childhood outcomes for young children experiencing homelessness.


Responding to the Crisis of Homelessness...A Message from Laura Green Zeilinger
Retooling the Homeless Crisis Response System - In Depth
Register for Our Sept. 10 Family Connection Webinar
News from Our Partners
Inspired by People: New Report Offers Alternatives to Criminalization
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181 mayors, 6 governors, and 13 county officials have committed to end homelessness among Veterans in their communities by the end of 2015.

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What Works: 
Coordinated Assessment

Investing in proven solutions is a key premise of Opening Doors. The commitment to end homelessness compels all of us to focus resources and efforts on solutions that work, while encouraging well-designed innovations for continuous improvement. Here we offer entries from the USICH Solutions Database that provide you with case studies of how various communities achieve coordinated assessment. 

YWCA Family Center and Coordinated Point of Access
Columbus, OH

Bellingham, WA



in the public eye report on alternatives to criminalization of homelessness


Without housing options, people often are forced to rely on culverts, public parks, streets, and abandoned buildings as places to sleep and carry out daily activities that most reserve for the privacy of their own home. As communities recognize and struggle with the fact that people without homes often live in public spaces, multiple strategies arise. Unfortunately, many of these strategies include policies that criminalize homelessness. In a new report, In the Public Eye, author Lucy Adams, of Australia's Justice Connect and guest blogger at USICH elevates the conversation. 


In Case You Missed It

2014 National Conference on Ending Homelessness Materials Available
First Lady Michelle Obama's appearance at the 2014 Homelessness Conference


Videos of the full speeches made by First Lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, along with session presentation materials, from the 2014 National Conference on Ending Homelessness are now available for viewing.  

Health Begins at Home Webinar Video Available for Download

Richard Cho, USICH Senior Policy Director, recently moderated a SAMHSA/HRSA webinar with titled "Health Begins at Home: Integrating Primary and Behavioral Care Services and Housing to End Homelessness." The 90-minute session covered opportunities created by the Affordable Care Act to integrate housing and health care. 

Click here to download video. (Email required.)


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Send your questions and comments about the USICH Newsletter to communications@usich.gov.