Challenges and Strategies

What are some key challenges to anticipate regarding sustainability?

Our consultations with stakeholders engaged in sustainability efforts revealed several challenges. We organize these challenges into three sections: 1- maintaining funding and resources; 2- preserving the Housing First program model when the host agency or funding mechanism changes; and 3- maintaining community support for the Housing First model. Each section describes several experience-based strategies from stakeholders with hands-on experience navigating sustainability issues, as well as knowledge gained from the At Home/Chez Soi project.

Click here to read about sustainability from Tim Richter of the Calgary Homeless Foundation.

Challenge: Maintaining funding and resources

An ongoing sustainability challenge revolves around the critical need to maintain funding and resources for the program. As described in the Planning Tasks, funding mechanisms vary based on context and province. Some funding sources for Housing First programs may be short-term, which can present a challenge to sustainability. As short-term funding streams expire, there is a renewed need to advocate for Housing First and to educate new stakeholders about the approach. Further, in some jurisdictions, funding is split between housing and mental health services, creating challenges to long-term sustainability for Housing First resources. Provincial and local governments are continuously faced with pressure to reduce spending through austerity measures, which can also present a threat to long-term sustainability of Housing First programs.

What are some strategies for maintaining funding and resources?

1. Develop a Sustainability Plan at an Early Stage.

The best way to address challenges to continued funding to a pilot project is to develop a sustainability plan right from the outset of the new initiative. Then, as the pilot phase winds down, the program’s leaders can be fully prepared to advocate with decision makers by demonstrating the success of the program.

2. Knowledge Translation

If your program is undertaking research, evaluation, or some form of performance assessment, you will be in a better position to demonstrate success to decision makers by translating this evidence into clear messages that funders can understand, focusing on outcomes that are important to them. This is known as “knowledge translation”. The most effective knowledge translation strategies involve key decision-maker stakeholders engaging with the project from the outset, because involving funders up front increases their buy-in and ownership over the program, and their interest in your results. Funders and key stakeholders may be particularly interested in results that demonstrate cost-effectiveness. Another especially effective way of advocating is to use success stories that demonstrate how Housing First has changed the day-to-day lives of participants, such as reconnecting with family members, and participating in activities that matter to them. The At Home/Chez Soi initiative, like many demonstration projects, was not in a position to show final results when the time came to make the case for sustainability and relied on interim reports for this purpose. Pilot projects have to be prepared to publicize progress reports about interim results and success stories to date.

If your program is undertaking research, evaluation, or some form of performance assessment, you will be in a better position to demonstrate success to decision makers by translating this evidence into clear messages that funders can understand, focusing on outcomes that are important to them.

Challenge: Preserving the Housing First program model when the host agency or funding mechanism changes

In some contexts, programs may be confronted by changes to the host agency or changes in funding mechanisms. When this occurs, programs face adjustment challenges that present threats to sustainability. New host agencies may have a different vision for the program, and program stakeholders must develop new relationships. Additionally, new funders and host agencies may be unfamiliar with Housing First, or resistant to key components of the Housing First approach.

What are some strategies for preserving the Housing First program model when the host agency or funding mechanism changes?

1. Maintain Strong Leadership.

Preserving the Housing First program from “program drift” is a challenge when an initiative moves beyond the excitement of the demonstration phase, and particularly so if the program becomes integrated into the usual system of care. If this happens, preserving the program leaders (e.g., the team leaders) is an especially important strategy for ensuring that the guiding philosophy and vision of the program is not lost, and that essential functions of the program are not compromised by funding cuts. Program leaders must have a clear understanding of the key principles of the program and be able to defend these to decision makers. They should be able to coach team members to practice the model in a way that is consistent with the principles. As described in the Evaluation Module, leaders should also develop a systematic way of assessing performance and outcomes to ensure that the program doesn’t drift from the model and continues to impact the lives of its participants in a positive way. Additionally, some programs recommended that leaders investigate flexible housing and homelessness dollars as bridge funds to obtaining long-term, continuous funding, should initial funding mechanisms change.

Challenge: Maintaining community support for the Housing First approach

As described in the Planning Module, it is critical to gain stakeholder and community support for the Housing First approach. Maintaining support for the Housing First approach is a crucial component of long-term sustainability. However, a common challenge faced by programs is diminishing support for Housing First. For instance, community support for Housing First can become a challenge if difficult tenancies are publicized, or if there is a crisis, such as a highly publicized police incident with a Housing First participant. Additionally, the community can exhibit fatigue or disinterest about the issue of homelessness over time.

What are strategies for maintaining community support for the Housing First approach?

1. Effectively Manage Risk

Being able to normalize and anticipate risk is the key to getting “out in front” of any incidents and making sure that these don’t become the overriding public perception of your program. Effective Housing First practice involves maintaining proactive and responsive relationships with landlords so that difficult issues between participants and other tenants or members of the general public can be sensitively addressed.

2. Communicate Program Successes

Beyond avoiding bad press, you should be able to communicate success stories to the public and develop a reputation as community leaders and assets. One strategy is to develop a “speakers bureau” of participants who are trained and supported to make public presentations about their experience in the program, and can clearly demonstrate what the program has meant to them and how it has changed their lives. According to some Housing First program leaders, program success can bring more scrutiny. As the program becomes increasingly known and recognized by the community, ongoing transparency and accountability are especially important.