CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, PA
Mayor Edward Rendell

Coordinated Strategy to Prevent Homelessness

Description of Program

The Philadelphia Community-Based Homelessness Prevention Program assists low-income renter and homeowner households (both individuals and families) maintain their housing or move to more affordable housing through a variety of services provided in the household. s community. The six Prevention Center sites are located in neighborhoods where, research has shown, a high concentration of homeless households resided just prior to entering emergency shelter. The Prevention Program staff work in existing community services organizations that offer to the surrounding community a range of supportive services, as well as referrals to other human services providers in the neighborhood and around the City.

Eligible households must be facing loss of housing due to rent, mortgage, or utility arrears, and have an income at or below 150% of the federal poverty level. Households with no income, or residents of shelter, may be eligible for assistance. Current Section 8 recipients who are required to move may be eligible if their reason for moving is related to a noncompliant landlord or domestic violence.

Assistance is provided through budget counseling; case management for up to six months; employment assistance -- job development and job readiness coaching, and referrals to job training programs; grants for back rent, mortgage or utility payments; grants for security deposits and emergency employment needs; and grants for forward payments of rent, mortgage, or utilities. Clients may receive case management and budget counseling without receiving grant funds. Some clients may be eligible for emergency grant funds without ongoing case management, but are required to attend budget counseling and a case management session. Partial and forward payments of emergency funds are contingent upon meeting monthly case management goals set by the client and the Prevention Program staff, to reinforce that a grant alone will not solve a complex situation or effectively prevent homelessness, and to encourage self-sufficiency. Up to $1200 may be made available to a household, per year, in a combination of arrears and forward payments.

The Prevention Program also emphasizes the need to address non-economic issues that directly impact on a household. s ability to maintain affordable housing. Each center has established referral links to community-based organizations and service providers to assist those clients who have issues with substance abuse, mental illness, and domestic violence.

The Homelessness Prevention Hotline, run by a non-profit agency as an in-kind service to the Prevention Program, directs callers to the neighborhood centers or to emergency shelter intake sites depending upon their particular situation.

When and Why Created

The Prevention Program began in January 1995 as a pilot program at two neighborhood centers through a partnership of a city-wide energy assistance agency, a homelessness advocacy organization, and two community-based social services agencies that served as the program intake sites. This pilot was created to show that by providing assistance to some near-homeless households while they were still in their homes, it would be possible to prevent unnecessary shelter stays that are costly to the family (in terms of self-sufficiency) and taxing on the limited resources of the local shelter system. In the early months of the program, individuals affected by cuts and changes in eligibility for state-funded General Assistance were the target population. Lessons learned over the first two years of the pilot program were incorporated into an expansion of the program that now serves families and individuals at a total of six community-based organizations and offers coordinated assistance through case management, grants for arrears, security deposits, forward payments, and employment-related assistance.

Measurements of Effectiveness

In FY . 98, the prevention centers served approximately 2300 households. The baseline measurement of effectiveness of the program has been a comparison of shelter intake records with records of participants in the Prevention Program. The most recent comparison showed that one year after receiving assistance, shelter stays were prevented for 93% of all households assisted through the program. An evaluation of the policies, procedures, and effectiveness of the Prevention Program is underway and expected to be completed in the summer of 1999. This evaluation will incorporate case management records, one-to-one interviews with current and former participants, focus groups with Program staff, comparisons with shelter data, GIS mapping of participants. addresses, and review of behavioral outcomes data recorded for a cohort of participants over a three-month period.

Financing of Program

The Prevention Program is funded annually at $2 million -- staff / administration and emergency grants combined -- with local dollars (City General Funds).

Linkage to City Government

The City of Philadelphia Office of Housing and Community Development funds two non-profit agencies to administer the program at three sites per agency. Prevention Program policy is set at the City level with significant input from the administering agencies and, in past years, from the homeless services and academic communities through the Homelessness Prevention and Housing Stabilization Task Force convened by a City Councilperson.

Major Lessons

Developing and implementing a prevention program poses a wide range of challenges, including: piecing together appropriate funding (federal funding is not available for programs seeking to prevent homelessness); finding a realistic target population when faced with overwhelming needs and limited resources; determining a workable combination of services provided by the program and offered by the larger community that will have an impact beyond alleviating the household. s immediate crisis; and measuring the success of a prevention program.

In moving the program from the pilot stage it was recognized that requiring ongoing case management and providing employment assistance (job development / readiness coaching, and referrals to training programs) were key element that enabled households to move beyond their immediate financial crisis. For some households, linking forward payments or partial payments of arrears to meeting case management goals has been an effective motivator for making long-term changes. The evaluation of the Prevention Program will also look at how effective it is to provide assistance to households in their neighborhoods, at sites that are known as sources of assistance to the community and that have staff familiar with needs and resources particular to that community.

Contact Person Ms. Dainette Mintz Director for Special Needs Housing,   Office of Housing and Community Development 1234 Market Street, 17th Floor Philadelphia, PA, 19107 Telephone: (215) 686-9789;  Fax: (215) 686-9801

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