The South Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC) as the primary provider in the Metro West Network to End Homelessness has been providing diversion services at the Framingham /Milford offices DTA offices since August 2009. When the shelter system transferred from DTA to DHCD in July SMOC engaged the new DHCD homeless coordinator in the Framingham office to see how they could work together and how SMOC could support the one homeless coordinator assigned to Framingham and Milford offices. Even before ICHH resources were allocated to support co-located diversion, SMOC decided to place an experienced Housing Consumer Education Center (HCEC) worker in the DTA office to provide diversion and prevention services to families seeking shelter.
The staffing that began as part time became full time in October when ICHH funding for that position became available. Under SMOC’s diversion model all families seeking shelter are assessed by the SMOC Diversion Specialist first. The diversion specialist conducts an intake to determine if the family is a good candidate for diversion or prevention. She presents the options, completes the paperwork and assesses their interest. To be considered a “good candidate” the family must be interested in being diverted, have some income to work with, and have some support in terms of family and friends in the area to stay with during the diversion/housing placement process. Once this process is complete, the Diversion Specialist sends the family to the DHCD homeless coordinator to determine eligibility. Once eligibility is determined all families, both eligible and ineligible, see the Diversion Specialist again to discuss their options. For families that are not EA eligible, the diversion specialist refers them for prevention services to the SMOC Prevention Specialist to determine what community resources maybe available to help prevent their homelessness. The Metro West Network has dedicated the bulk of their ICHH flexible funds to provide prevention resources to these non-eligible families. If the family is EA eligible and is a good candidate for diversion the family will continue to work with the diversion specialist who will place them into housing using her landlord connections, strong relationships with other community programs and funding from DHCD’s Tool Box (when this program was active), HPRP, and private funding.
Between September 1, 2009 and February 28, 2010 the SMOC diversion specialist, in partnership with the Framingham/Milford homeless coordinator, diverted 22 families from entering shelter. Between September and December of 2009 Metro West had a diversion to shelter entry ratio of .4 which means for every 10 shelter entries 4 families were diverted. This ratio is consistently leading to a shrinking shelter system in the Metro West Region. For that same period of time Metro West was the highest performing region in the state in terms of diversion to shelter entry rates.
To divert these 22 families into housing the Metro West Network spent a total of $29,286 in HPRP, Tool Box, and private funds – averaging just $1,331 per family. This diversion cost includes funds for move-in costs for families and does not include ongoing subsidies or stabilization services. In addition to the financial services available to diverted families the diversion specialist helps families identify resources in their community that will help keep them housed and move toward economic self-sufficiency. SMOC wishes it was able to provide more ongoing supportive services for families who are diverted but under the current funding structure they are only able to conduct check-ins every 3 months and provide modest services to families who call in for more assistance.
The Metro West Network credits its success in diversion to a strong and genuine partnership between SMOC’s diversion specialist and DHCD’s homeless coordinator who work together daily to help families avoid shelter, and to Ita Mularkey, from the DHCD Special Projects Unit, who has been giving ongoing technical support. Additionally, SMOC was strategic in selecting their diversion specialist – the role was assigned to a veteran HCEC worker, Wanda Martinez, who brought with her years of experience working with homeless and near-homeless households and strong relationships with landlords and other community resources that help her successfully divert families into housing.
Information for this article came from an interview with Tina Close of SMOC. For more information on Metro West’s diversion program please contact Tina Close at firstname.lastname@example.org