Problem-Solving: An Innovative Approach to Addressing Homelessness

On a single night in January 2018, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) identified over half a million people as experiencing homelessness. An experience of homelessness—no matter how brief—is both traumatic and disruptive. We know that more housing resources are needed, however, we cannot afford to wait for the availability of sufficient housing resources to find solutions for people that are experiencing homelessness.

Problem-solving is an approach that, in the absence of sufficient housing resources, helps prevent homelessness when possible and helps households exit homelessness quickly when prevention is not possible.

What are Problem-solving Approaches? 

The most critical element of problem-solving is a client-centered, housing-focused, and exploratory conversation that should happen with everyone regardless of perceived needs and barriers. The goal of this conversation is to explore creative, flexible, safe, and cost-effective solutions to quickly resolve the housing crisis — even if just temporarily — with limited or no financial support.

In a problem-solving conversation, a skilled staff person actively listens to the households and helps identify potential safe housing options – such as returning to a prior residence, staying with friends or family, or securing a new tenancy – and then works with the household to determine the necessary steps to make that housing option a reality.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach for integrating problem-solving within a community, there are fundamental considerations that will help strengthen these practices:

  1. Problem-solving should not be considered a standalone ‘program’ but instead as a practice that is integrated throughout the homelessness service system. 
  2. That integration should assume that problem-solving can potentially work for everyone and may require more than one conversation.
  3. Instead of focusing on the needs and barriers of a household, problem-solving efforts must purposefully shift focus to understanding a household’s strengths and existing supports.
  4. In addition to problem-solving conversations, light-touch services may also be needed, such as crisis resolution or family mediation; strengths-based case management; housing search and placement; landlord mediation; and connections to mainstream resources, legal services, and credit repair services.
  5. Access to flexible financial resources for one-time costs that directly result in a housing connection can make problem-solving even more effective; however, this should be a last resort after other options have been exhausted.
  6. The ideal staff person engaging in this activity should have empathy, active listening abilities, knowledge of community resources, and conflict resolution skills.

Why Use Problem-solving Approaches?

Problem-solving approaches are simply the right thing to do. Homelessness is a traumatic experience and the goal should be to help households avoid it whenever possible. And when homelessness cannot be avoided, our goal should be to help households exit homelessness quickly, exploring all possible options.

Problem-solving seeks to empower households by having an unwavering respect for their strengths, goals, and preferences. The goal is to help the household regain a sense of control by focusing on their strengths and resiliency. When done well, the staff person is not the one solving the problem — they are merely creating a space to help the household explore safe alternatives, and then providing the supports to make that solution possible. 

This article is excerpted from a post on The Spark. See Marcy’s full blog here

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