What are prevention and diversion?
Prevention and diversion programs leverage a variety of interventions to prevent people from becoming homeless or divert them away from shelters to more stable housing.
While the terms “prevention” and “diversion” are often conflated due to the similarity of the intervention strategies, prevention and diversion serve different populations with different goals:
What is the need for prevention and diversion in the Bay Area?
There are more than 575,000 people across the Bay Area who were estimated to be living below the federal poverty level in 2019.1Poverty Status in the Past 12 Months, 2019 ACS 1-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau. Approximately 400,000 Bay Area households (close to half) were extremely low-income (ELI) according to HUD 2013-2017 data.2 Consolidated Planning/CHAS data 2013- 2017 period, renters only, HUD. Of ELI renters in the Bay Area, 70% spend more than half of their income on housing.3Id. Households paying more than 30% of their income on rent are considered “housing cost burdened.” Households paying more than 50% of their income on rent are considered “severely housing cost burdened.”
Households paying more than 30% of their income on rent are considered “housing cost burdened.” Households paying more than 50% of their income on rent are considered “severely housing cost burdened.”
Without added income or assistance paying rent, many Bay Area households are unable to retain their housing. Pre-pandemic, inflow of newly homeless individuals was increasing at a much higher rate than the outflow of people to stable housing: in parts of the Bay Area, for every one person housed by the system, three people became homeless.4 Regional Homelessness Prevention, All Home.
Given the high median rents in the nine Bay Area counties, hundreds of thousands of households are cost burdened and at risk of becoming homeless simply based on income alone.
Fortunately, many Bay Area communities have recognized that households need assistance to prevent homelessness and/or to divert them from homelessness to stable housing.
What are the bright spots in the Bay Area’s prevention and diversion interventions?
The following are a selection of impactful intervention strategies being used in the Bay Area that could be integrated into a prevention and/or diversion program, depending on the target population and the goal.
Housing Problem Solving (Diversion)
A different approach to how people experiencing homelessness are integrated into the homeless system. Upon first contact with providers, shelter and outreach staff engage individuals and families in a housing problem solving conversation to determine whether they have options available to them outside the homeless system of care and, if so, to support them in accessing those options.
In addition to system-wide integration of Housing Problem Solving as a prevention and diversion resource, Alameda County is using Housing Problem Solving to combat racial disparities for individuals entering homelessness. Through focus groups and other community conversations, Alameda is proactively targeting Housing Problem Solving prevention resources to individuals most at risk of entering homelessness.
Contra Costa County
Contra Costa County’s Housing, Homelessness and Health Services (H3)’s Rapid Resolution began as a pilot program but is now systemwide. Using coaching and problem-solving, conflict resolution and mediation, connection to mainstream services, housing search assistance and stabilization planning, after care and follow-up support services, and limited financial assistance, the program is designed to prevent immediate entry into the homeless system or to immediately resolve a household’s homelessness once they enter the shelter system, transitional housing, or an unsheltered situation.
A strategy focused on leveraging resources, including financial assistance, to provide housing stability solutions for individuals and families at risk of becoming homeless:
- Identify strengths and existing support networks;
- Consider other safe housing options outside of emergency shelter (e.g., relocation, doubling up with family);
- Connect to community services; and
- Access flexible financial resources.
Santa Clara County
Santa Clara County’s Homelessness Prevention System (HPS) is a network of agencies that provide flexible financial assistance to low-income individuals and families who are at risk of losing their housing. With leadership from Destination: Home, the County of Santa Clara Office of Supportive Housing (OSH), and Sacred Heart Community Services, the HPS has grown to include a network of social service organizations and multiple access points across the county.
In Solano County, Fighting Back Partnership in Vallejo helps families and individuals keep their homes through times of crisis. Through their Family Strengthening Programs (FSP) and Family Resource Centers (FRC), family navigator staff provide case management to support families and individuals in the midst of a crisis to respond to financial emergencies, as well as retain their homes and get long-term support for medical services, food and other essential services.
Contra Costa County
The Contra Costa County Housing Security Fund offers flexible funding aimed at providing quick housing stability solutions for persons at risk of becoming homeless within the next two weeks and divert individuals from homelessness. Funds come from a combination of private donations and contributions from the Probation Department and are not limited to a certain number of instances or capped at a specific amount.
All Home Regional Homelessness Prevention
In 2021, All Home, a Bay Area nonprofit, is launching a Regional Homelessness Prevention program that will use both public and private financing to provide housing problem-solving, housing stabilization or navigation, legal services, financial counseling, and connection to other services, public benefits, or community resources.
Criminal Legal System Prevention and Diversion
Criminal legal system prevention and diversion targets individuals exiting carceral settings with specific resources to prevent an exit to homelessness or to divert people who have been involved with the criminal legal system who are already experiencing homelessness.
Community Court is a program in Marin County, hosted by the St. Vincent De Paul Society (in partnership with Marin Superior Court and the Legal Aid Society of Marin County). The diversion program is available to homeless and low-income defendants to resolve minor offenses and help learn more about the supportive services that are available to them in the community. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been holding the Court online.
San Francisco County
San Francisco County’s CONNECTion to Services (the CONNECT Program), through the District Attorney’s office, allows people facing housing instability to dismiss infractions related to homelessness (e.g., loitering, sleeping on sidewalks). As a condition of dismissal, participants agree to get help from a caseworker or social service provider.
Medical Respite and Recuperative Care
Medical respite and recuperative care offers alternatives to homelessness for individuals exiting institutions (e.g., carceral or medical settings) who have no place to go, but are too ill to be on the street or a non-medical shelter. Though medical respite and recuperative care programs are temporary, they provide extra time and opportunity to connect individuals with prevention or diversion resources so they can exit the programs to housing.
San Mateo County
A recuperative pilot project in San Mateo County with San Mateo Medical Center (and supported by the Health Plan of San Mateo and revenue from Measure K), provides medical services for people who are homeless and too ill to be on the street or in a shelter, but not ill enough to be in a hospital. A Care Navigator through the local Whole Person Care program works with county housing resources to help secure stable housing when people are preparing for discharge from the facility.
Sonoma County’s Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa Project Nightingale operates medical respite centers for patients from the Queen of the Valley and St. Helena hospitals who are ready to be discharged but have no place to continue their recovery. The shelters offer a safe place to heal and case management services to their patients.
The City of Alameda is developing the Alameda Center: Senior Housing and Medical Respite with the Alameda Point Collaborative. Included in the plans are to have 80-90 Permanent Supportive Housing Units, a medical respite center, a primary health and behavioral health clinic on-site, and a drop-in center that is open for any city of Alameda Residents.
Public/Private Partnerships: Rental Assistance and Eviction Prevention
Partnerships across sectors to implement effective strategies for preventing homelessness or quickly diverting people experiencing homelessness from the system. The strategy requires substantial coordination with cross-sector partners such as legal services advocates.
Keep Oakland Housed provides a three-prong emergency response approach to legal representation, financial assistance, and supportive services for City of Oakland residents to prevent homelessness and displacement. In its first two years, Keep Oakland Housed provided $9 million in financial assistance and legal services and served close to 5,000 households. They undertake their work through a racial equity lens; a majority of program participants are Black, reflecting the disproportionate impact of Oakland’s housing crisis on the Black community.
San Francisco County
The San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development funded legal representation for all tenants facing eviction and providing one-time financial assistance ($3,000) to eligible households who had experienced a substantial loss of income due to COVID-19 through the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
Interventions focus on supporting economic opportunity and advancement as a means of achieving housing stability. Workforce development prevention or diversion strategies include strategies such as:
- Job training programs and/or work learning opportunities;
- Financial aid to assist with job search and transition; and
- Rental assistance to support individuals who are working towards employment goals.
San Francisco County
San Francisco’s Hospitality House takes a workforce development approach to a city-wide intervention targeting both homeless and low-income individuals with employment supports. Through their Employment Program, they connect people to employers and job fairs, as well as facilitate job seeker support groups. They have two neighborhood access points that annually have helped close to 300 people gain employment.
Episcopal Community Service of San Francisco’s Workforce Development and Social Enterprise Program offers the Conquering Homelessness through Employment in Food Services (CHEFS), a culinary training program. Participants get a weekly stipend and spend 8 weeks in the kitchen to earn their food handlers certificate. The program culminated in an “employment audition” with a food service business or restaurant.
San Mateo County
San Mateo County has a Lived Experience Workforce Development Workgroup where and people with lived experience and their family members are trained to present on topics related to behavioral health issues and homelessness and re-entry into the work force.
Affordable Housing is Prevention
An adequate amount of development, rehabilitation, preservation, and targeting people at risk can prevent homelessness and help individuals experiencing homelessness more quickly obtain stable housing. Please see the Affordable Housing Development section for Bay Area bright spots and implementation strategies.
- 1Poverty Status in the Past 12 Months, 2019 ACS 1-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau.
- 2Consolidated Planning/CHAS data 2013- 2017 period, renters only, HUD.
- 4Regional Homelessness Prevention, All Home.