Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) provide annual funding to states, cities, and counties to support housing and expand economic opportunities in communities. CDBG grants must benefit low- and moderate- income people, aid in the prevention or elimination of slums or blight, and meet a need having particular urgency (urgent need). Eligible activities under CDBG include:
- Housing, including housing ownership assistance, housing services, housing rehabilitation, lead-based paint abatement, home ownership assistance, and construction of housing.
- Public facilities, including infrastructure, special needs facilities, and/or community facilities.
- Activities related to economic development
- Activities related to public services, including fair housing counseling, job training, crime prevention, childcare, and health care and substance use services.
- Support for Community-based Development Organizations that work on neighborhood revitalization, community economic development, and/or energy conservation.
Community Engagement is an essential and important component of homeless response activity. Centering a homeless response system’s work around people with lived experience of homelessness means that the homeless response system has structures in place to ensure the direct participation from people experiencing homelessness in policies, strategies, implementation, and evaluation of the homeless response system. While there are many ways to engage people with lived experience in the homeless response system, often a formal structure such a Community Advisory Board or a Lived Experience Advisory Board that is comprised solely of people formerly/currently homeless, provides a vehicle for regular and meaningful engagement.
A Continuum of Care (CoC) is a group comprised of nonprofit organizations, service providers, and local government agencies that coordinates homeless services and homelessness prevention activities across a specified geographic area. Through the CoC application process, communities submit to HUD a consolidated application to fund homelessness assistance programs.
Each CoC must establish a Board to act on its behalf. It may also appoint additional committees or workgroups to fulfill its responsibilities. The CoC must develop a governance charter to document all groups created to support the CoC and each group’s relative responsibilities.
A CoC’s three primary responsibilities are: 1. operating the CoC; 2. planning; and 3. designating and operating a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS).
A Coordinated Entry System (CES) is a system for accessing housing and services by asking that communities prioritize people experiencing homelessness who are most in need of assistance. The CES process strategically allocates a community’s current resources and identifies the need for additional resources. It ensures that the highest need, most vulnerable households in the community are prioritized for services and that the housing and supportive services in the system are used as efficiently and effectively as possible.
A functioning CES offers:
- Streamlined access and referral;
- Fair and equal access;
- Standardized tools and practices;
- A Housing First approach; and
- Prioritization of those most in need of assistance.
Coordinated Entry works by establishing a common process to assess the situation of all households who request help through the housing crisis response system. Collaborating across service providers allows the homeless response system to prioritize people who are most likely to need assistance because of physical or behavioral health issues, vulnerability to death or victimization while homeless, or the circumstances of their homelessness.
Every homeless response system in the country is required to develop and operate a CES. All providers who receive funding through HUD’s CoC and Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) Programs are required to participate in CES. All CoC- and ESG-funded vacancies must be filled through the Coordinated Entry process.
Emergency shelters provide safe places for people to stay at night and help connect people to services and the Coordinated Entry System (CES). When the programs are housing-focused and low-barrier, they are an important part of the system to engage people and help them exit homelessness to permanent housing. Warming Centers provide a place for people experiencing homelessness to sleep during winter. Cooling Centers do the same, but during the hot months. Both intentionally remove barriers to entry by providing kennels for people with pets, requiring no service participation, and offering space for people to store their personal belongings. While people stay at the Centers, they have access to supportive services, including public health nurses, mental health crisis workers, protective, and substance use treatment services.
Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) Program Funds: The Emergency Solutions Grant Program provides grants by formula to states, metropolitan cities, urban counties, and U.S. territories for eligible activities, which generally include essential services related to emergency shelter, rehabilitation and conversion of buildings to be used as emergency shelters, operation of emergency shelters, and homelessness prevention services. The specific five program areas that ESG funds are: street outreach, emergency shelter, homelessness prevention, Rapid Rehousing assistance, Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), as well as up to 7.5% of a recipient’s allocation can be used for administrative activities.
Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP), is a grant program administered by the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency (BCSH), which provides immediate one-time funding (as a block grant) to cities, counties and homeless response systems to address the homelessness crisis throughout California. HEAP supports programs that provide immediate emergency assistance to people experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of homelessness. Funds can be used for activities such as homelessness prevention, criminal justice diversion programs, services intended to serve homeless youth, and emergency assistance.
Homeless Housing Assistance and Prevention Program (HHAP), is a grant program administered by the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency (BCSH), which provides local jurisdictions with funds to support regional coordination and expand or develop local capacity to address their immediate homelessness challenges. As of 2021, there have been two rounds of HHAP grants. The Round 2 grants are available to communities that availed themselves of Round 1 grant making, in order to continue the work and to develop a regionwide response to homelessness.
Housing First is a well-accepted national best practice that eliminates barriers to housing, ensuring individuals and families can exit homelessness as quickly as possible. Under a Housing First approach, people experiencing homelessness are supported in returning to housing as quickly as possible, often through supportive housing programs that have no pre-requisites, preconditions, or program participation requirements. Housing First does not mean “no rules,” but it does mean no unnecessary rules that could prevent people from entering the program.
The Housing First approach has been extremely successful in reducing the length of time households are homeless, preventing returns to homelessness, and supporting participants’ long-term stability and well-being.
Housing-Focused Shelters (also sometimes called “Navigation Centers”) help people connect long-term solutions to homelessness and address the barriers that keep them from becoming housed. The goal is to help people exit homelessness as rapidly as possible. Once housed, people can work on the underlying challenges that undermine their stability. Housing-Focused Shelters typically offer:
- Admissions policies that screen-in (not screen out) households, and welcome pets, partners, and possessions.
- Minimal rules and restrictions that focus on safety (e.g., no weapons) and ability for people to come and go, with 24-hour operations. Rule violations that are addressed through case management and behavior modification, rather than termination of assistance.
- Client-centered services tailored to support a household’s ability to exit homelessness (e.g., job training, benefits enrollment), including voluntary, intensive case management geared toward helping clients obtain and maintain permanent housing as quickly as possible through a housing action plan.
- Physical layout and aesthetics that include community spaces, outdoor spaces for pets, storage for possessions, mixed-gender dormitories that allow partners to request beds next to one another, and other design elements that promote a welcoming environment.
- Staff with cultural competencies who treat residents with respect and dignity and caseloads that are kept small enough for staff to spend adequate time with each client.
- Co-location of benefits eligibility workers, health care, Department of Public Health, and other services. Partnerships with programs such as meals-on-wheels can assist with providing food.
Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA), CoC Program. CoCs apply for funding every year through a competitive process in response to HUD’s CoC Program Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA). After enactment of the annual federal Appropriations Act for the Fiscal Year, HUD issues a NOFA allowing all CoCs in the country to compete for funding.
HUD awards CoC Program funding competitively to nonprofit organizations, states, and/or units of general purpose local governments (often counties), collectively known as recipients. In turn, recipients may contract or sub-grant with other organizations or government entities (known as subrecipients) to carry out the grant’s day-to-day program operations.
The NOFA requires that each CoC design, operate and follow a collaborative process to develop and approve of applications for funding. The CoC has to establish priorities for funding projects in its geographic area and determine if the CoC will file one comprehensive application for funding or more than one.
Funding acquired through the CoC Program NOFA can be used to support: permanent housing (PSH and RRH); Transitional Housing; Supportive Services Only (SSO) (including coordinated entry); HMIS (available to HMIS leads only); and homelessness prevention (limited).
Roles within a CoC: There are many roles that communities fill in order to ensure the CoC functions well and effectively serves people experiencing homelessness.
- CoC: Coalition of local government, nonprofits, and other stakeholders
- CoC Board: The entity established to act on behalf of the CoC. It must be representative of relevant organizations and projects serving homeless subpopulations in the community
- Collaborative Applicant: A legal entity that is designated by the CoC to apply for annual NOFA funding on behalf of the CoC. The Collaborative Applicant also applies for planning funds on behalf of the CoC. Many CoCs delegate additional administrative tasks to the Collaborative Applicant.
- HMIS Lead: A legal entity designated by the CoC to manage the day-to-day operation of the CoC’s Health Management information System (HMIS).
- CoC Program Funding Recipients/Subrecipients (“programs” or “projects”)
- Workgroups or Committees: HUD requires the CoC to establish workgroups and/or committees to help carry out other activities of the CoC.
Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) provides long-term housing (rental assistance) with intensive supportive services to persons with disabilities. PSH programs typically target people with extensive experiences of homelessness and multiple vulnerabilities and needs who would not be able to retain housing without significant support.
Rapid Rehousing (RRH) provides housing subsidies and tailored supportive services for up to 24-months, with the goal of helping people to transition during that time period to more permanent housing. RRH is funded primarily through CoC and ESG programs, as well as Supportive Services for Veteran Families.
Supportive Services are services that a household needs to retain housing and attain long-term stability. They can include case management, connections to employment and public benefits, and medical, mental health, and substance use treatment. Permanent housing programs such as PSH and RRH provide supportive services tailored to the unique needs of each household and successfully support many individuals and families to permanently exit homelessness and regain self-sufficiency.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a specific HUD definition of homelessness that applies to the homelessness programs that the federal government funds. Under HUD programs, homelessness is defined as: people living in a place not meant for human habitation (such as an encampment, tent, or vehicle), emergency shelters, or transitional housing.
HUD requires each CoC to collect and report certain information about the people they serve as part of their homeless response system. The Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) are the data systems communities use to collect and analyze client, service, and housing information. HUD does not provide or mandate that community’s use a particular software. Each community can select their own, as long as it is able to collect the required data elements and support reporting requirements.
HUD requires every community to collect and track specific data points about the individuals that they serve, including basic client information; benefits, insurance, sources of income; and Information about client’s interaction with the homeless response system.
The Housing Inventory Count (HIC) reflects the number of beds and housing units available on the night designated for the PIT count that are dedicated to serve people who are/were homeless. The HIC provides data by program type and includes permanent housing beds and data on beds dedicated to serve specific sub-populations. The data often comes from HMIS and/or from service providers.
The McKinney-Vento Act is another federal statute that has a more expansive definition of homelessness. The Act requires schools to track students experiencing homelessness. For public education programs up through high school, homelessness includes people experiencing homelessness under the HUD definition, but also includes youth who are couch surfing or doubled-up (e.g., with multiple families sharing the same space).
The Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), administered by the California State Department of Mental Health (DMH), is funded through a 1% tax on personal income over $1 million/year. In general, MHSA provides funding for necessary infrastructure, technology, and training elements that effectively support the public behavioral health system. The MHSA housing program provides funding for the capital costs and operating subsidies to develop Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) for individuals with serious mental illness who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, and who meet the MHSA Housing Program target population criteria.
Transitional Housing provides temporary housing accommodations and supportive services. While many households benefit most from direct connections to permanent housing programs such as RRH or PSH (which are often more cost-effective over the long term), transitional housing can also be an effective support. In particular, certain subpopulations, such as people fleeing domestic violence and transitional age youth, can meaningfully benefit from a transitional housing environment.