When it comes to homelessness, keeping even a few people off the streets and getting them out of emergency shelters helps both individual people and the service providers for the unhoused.
That’s what ShelterCare’s new program aims to do. Rapid Exit and Diversion Services (REDS) was created to lessen the strain on service providers by helping individuals find a place to stay with someone they know. This can be through a relative or friend who often have their own barriers that prevent them offering a place to stay.
This strategy to help alleviate homelessness was recommended in Lane County’s Public Shelter Feasibility Study, also known as the TAC Report, which highlighted the need for this type of service.
Royanna Sigler, rapid resolution specialist for ShelterCare and team lead for the project, says the county’s goal is to divert or rapidly exit around 15 percent of unhoused people.
“If I was looking at, say, 500 people, that would mean about 75 of them aren’t entering emergency services. That is really great and that’s what we are trying for,” Sigler says.
She clarifies the program is not intended for homeless prevention, since there are plenty of service providers working on that, but is instead helping people connect with options in their own social network.
She says that many people facing impending homelessness feel like they are going to be a burden on their family, friends or coworkers. What tends to be the case, Sigler explains, is that family and friends want to help, but they often have their own set of limitations. Sometimes, it’s about finding a way to make something work for everyone involved.
“We have already had a few cases that have gone well already and we were able to get people to family members that were out of state,” Sigler says. REDS started in early February.
Lane County had put out a request for proposals to take on the REDS project, and ShelterCare won the bid to create and implement the program. With a $142,264 grant from the county for this fiscal year, REDS helps those who are in emergency shelter for a short amount of time, which is called “rapid exit” from the shelter. The program also helps individuals who are already homeless but have not entered emergency shelters, which is called “diversion” from the shelter.
An email statement from Amanda Borta, senior program services coordinator for Lane County, says that rapid exit and diversion is an emerging practice that focuses on exploratory problem solving.
“Lane County has committed funding to support full-time Rapid Resolution specialists to work across the homeless service system, engaging individuals at shelter and access points and working with them to identify alternative solutions,” Borta writes.
Here is how the program works:
Sigler says individuals get connected to the program either by reaching out or by referral. Various service providers, such as the Eugene Mission and St. Vincent’s Dusk to Dawn, can recommend individuals to the REDS program. Then, Sigler says, team members sit down with the person and have a conversation about their situation.
“We can do it over the phone or meet with them in person,” she says, adding that aside from a name and birthday, staff doesn’t ask really any statistical information such as their gender, race or social security number. “Sometimes people start to feel more like a statistic and less like an individual.”
The conversation entails figuring out how someone got into their current situation — maybe they were evicted or had just lost their job. Then, REDS team members work with the individual in brainstorming ideas of a place they could go rather than relying on traditional emergency services. If they find an option, for example, at a family member’s home, ShelterCare will help them get to that location.
Sigler says the REDS program can be anything from one conversation, because the person can be diverted immediately, or up to a few conversations due to back and forth communication about where someone is going to stay.
“We want to make sure they are not going somewhere else to be homeless because we don’t want to stop them from getting services,” she says.
Though REDS does not provide the individual case management other organizations offer, Sigler says that they can still help people find and navigate resources that would be beneficial to them. Overall, this program has fewer barriers to it, Sigler says. In many cases an individual has to go through a lot of steps and various programs just to get to a point where they figure out housing, she adds.
“This program will help those who have places to go, but need help getting there.”
Looking ahead, Sigler says ShelterCare is still building the program by getting connected with more agencies. She adds that they are also working on setting up a space where they can meet with referred individuals as needed.
“It was really nice to be able to cut some of the strings attached to services and make a very streamlined process. If they already have something set up, or if they have somewhere to be, it is a great opportunity,” Sigler says.
To refer individuals or to connect with the REDS program, please contact REDS@ShelterCare.com. Rapid Resolution specialists will respond and meet with the individual within one business day.