Addressing Homelessness

Homelessness in Ada County

The number of those experiencing homelessness changes all the time. The best way to ascertain this figure is to triangulate three data points. Here is what we know:

  • In May 2017, the CoC launched coordinated entry. In its first year, Our Path Home conducted assessments with 674 households. That number has since grown well beyond 1,000 completed assessments. About 200 families with children and 400 single adults (or couples without children) are on the queue at any given time.
  • Every year, the CoC conducts a one-night count of anyone we can find (in shelter or on the street) experiencing homelessness in Ada County. Since 2009, this number is in the range of 675-875 people, from a low of 694 in 2013 to a high of 872 in 2010.
  • In calendar year 2017, the CoC’s Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS) documented 2,072 people having had experienced homelessness over the course of the year.

Emergency Shelter

Emergency shelter provides a safe place to stay for persons facing a housing crisis who would otherwise be living on the street. Entry into the emergency shelter system should be low barrier and anti-discriminatory. Shelter services should focus on those necessary to secure housing. The length of stay in shelter should be as short as possible and the exit to permanent housing as fast as possible.

The Boise Rescue Mission, Interfaith Sanctuary, and the Women’s and Children’s Alliance operate the shelter beds available in Ada County. Hays House is a 24-shelter for runaway and homeless youth.

Homelessness Prevention

Prevention assistance provides financial assistance (such as rental or utility assistance) and support services to keep people housed and avoid eviction or homelessness. However, prevention activities also include discharge policies (from hospitals and jails), tenant-landlord mediation, housing counseling, and legal assistance, among others.

The number of people at risk of homelessness is greater than the number of people that experience literal homelessness; the challenge is how to identify and provide the right services to those at imminent risk of homelessness.

Diversion is a prevention strategy that tries to preserve the current housing for those who may be seeking emergency shelter to remain safely, appropriately and stably housed or otherwise make immediate alternative arrangements to avoid a shelter stay. Successful diversion strategies begin with a problem-solving, strengths-based conversation that asks something like: “what would resolve your current housing crisis?” instead of: “what are you eligible for and which shelter has an open bed?”

The goal of prevention is housing stability and to reduce the number of entries into homelessness, thereby conserving and targeting resources toward those who need it most.

Solutions to End Homelessness

Housing is the solution. Housing ends homelessness. The formula is simple: housing + rental assistance + support services = home.

Rental assistance helps make housing affordable, and targeted and individualized support services help people keep their housing long-term. These supports should be delivered by way of an evidence-based intervention, like Rapid Re-Housing or Permanent Supportive Housing. The CoC’s emergency overnight shelters respond to the night-by-night crisis; the challenge is to expand the availability of the three components needed to achieve permanent housing:

  • Housing
  • Rental assistance
  • Support services

Chronically Homeless

While the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines chronic homelessness in technical terms, the spirit of the definition is individuals or families with lengthy and persistent histories of homelessness who also have a disability.

A study published by Boise State University in 2016 showed that on average, it costs $53,460 per person per year to leave people on the street ($5.3 million per 100 people) – costs incurred through emergency medical care, the criminal justice system and emergency shelter. Conversely, providing on-going permanent housing with services is estimated to cost $16,830 per person ($1.6 million per 100 people).

Woman holding small child standing in front of a house with a key to the house in her hand

How Can I Help?

The CoC envisions a system wherein every person experiencing homelessness finds home. We know that, simply put, housing ends homelessness. Yes, the issue is complex. But that complexity should not delay our response, particularly when we have a framework of solutions to work within.

The CoC currently operates a model that includes a set of evidence-based practices. We have decent data and are positioned to make data-driven decisions. We are monitoring program performance and system outcomes closer than we ever have. We have formed an unprecedented collaboration.

And yet, we have work to do. We need to improve how we approach prevention. We need to expand street outreach. We need to intervene earlier and faster on behalf of children. We need to create permanent supportive housing inventory and respond compassionately to people experiencing long-term and persistent homelessness.

For households experiencing homelessness, the crisis is critical and immediate. It is now. Let’s not wait for the elusive cure-all when we have a functioning intervention model. We can’t afford to delay, and we don’t need to delay: we know enough about what works to get things done and to do better.

Call to Action:

  • Invest. The money we compete for at the federal level is not enough to solve the problem.
  • Advocate. Familiarize yourself with the work of the CoC. To join the CoC and/or to receive our updates, contact the CoC Program Manager.
  • Schedule a tour. Our Path Home opened a new, dedicated space in Fall 2018.
  • Dedicate rental units to the CoC. To learn more, contact the CoC’s Landlord Relationship Manager.

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