Projects

Navigating Home

How can we better support New Yorkers experiencing homelessness to find and secure permanent housing?

Partners & Funders

The Project

Staff at hundreds of shelters across New York City work hard to help New Yorkers experiencing homelessness find permanent housing—yet rates of success vary widely across the system. PPL partnered with New York City’s homeless-services agency to better understand client journeys from entry to exit and improve move-out rates city-wide.

The Outcome

Working closely with staff, providers, and clients at a dozen homeless shelters, we developed Five Steps to Home: a system model and set of user-friendly tools. Inspired by the best practices of high-performing shelters, this model supports new behaviors and mindsets, and provides a new framework for City training and monitoring around rehousing efforts.

Navigating Home

How can we better support New Yorkers experiencing homelessness to find and secure permanent housing?

Partners & Funders

The Project

Staff at hundreds of shelters across New York City work hard to help New Yorkers experiencing homelessness find permanent housing—yet rates of success vary widely across the system. PPL partnered with New York City’s homeless-services agency to better understand client journeys from entry to exit and improve move-out rates city-wide.

The Outcome

Working closely with staff, providers, and clients at a dozen homeless shelters, we developed Five Steps to Home: a system model and set of user-friendly tools. Inspired by the best practices of high-performing shelters, this model supports new behaviors and mindsets, and provides a new framework for City training and monitoring around rehousing efforts.

Project Background

Navigating Home was a three-year collaboration between the Public Policy Lab (PPL) and the NYC Department of Homeless Services/Social Services (DHS), funded by the Robin Hood Foundation and New York Community Trust.

New York City’s shelter system is intended to provide temporary housing to New Yorkers experiencing homelessness. More than 120,000 adults and children used the shelter system in fiscal year 2020. While staying in shelter, New Yorkers experiencing homelessness are supported in finding a new permanent home by shelter staff. 

Research by the NYC DSS Office of Planning and Performance Management (OPPM) and Office of Evaluation and Research (OER) suggests that move-out rates from shelter to permanent housing vary greatly across the system. Some shelters achieve significantly higher levels of success in helping clients find permanent housing—defined as transition to a known new address, with no shelter re-entry within thirty days.

Our team conducted several rounds of research at adult and family shelters across the City to co-create and test prototypes and processes that support the transition to permanent housing. 

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Hours of fieldwork

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Clients and staff engaged in research and co-design

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DSS staff involved in the design process

What We Found

Working closely with City staff and with providers and clients at a dozen homeless shelters, the Navigating Home project team studied why some shelters were more successful than others in helping clients move out to permanent housing.

When analyzing best practices, we learned that holistic, client-centered, and team-based approaches are most effective when it comes to supporting clients with finding permanent housing. This finding suggested that our design interventions should support an all-staff effort.

While exploring how shelter clients interact with shelter staff and systems, from entry to exit, we identified six key service factors that underpin success. These service factors served as prompts for subsequent design efforts.

 

Service Factors

We synthesized best practices into six distinct service factors associated with more successful move-outs. 

Expertise

Staff has the knowledge needed to properly advise clients.

Goal Setting

Staff supports clients to identify goals beyond just moving out.

Client Management

Staff understands how to assess each client’s unique needs.

Relationships

Staff takes a client centered-approach in meetings and sets clear expectations with clients.

Time Management

Staff sets expectations with clients about how long the rehousing process might take.

Information Channels

Clients and staff have clear information about strategies to successfully navigate the housing journey.

What We Designed

With the service factors in mind, we worked with clients and staff to co-create prototypes of tools and processes to support the transition to permanent housing. We conducted pilot-testing in 12 shelters to evaluate the prototypes for acceptance and value, revised the tools and processes based on pilot findings, and ultimately developed a plan for scaled future implementation with DHS.

The tools and processes we designed are encapsulated within a service-delivery model called ‘Five Steps to Home,’ which refers to the five sequential activities we identified as being required to successfully exit from shelter into permanent housing. The five-step model and corresponding set of tools are inspired by the best practices used at multiple high-performing shelters across the City.

Please note that the artifacts below are prototypes. They are not necessarily the versions that will be used in the shelters and they are subject to change.

Five Steps to Home Visual Explainer

The model supports new behaviors and mindsets by shelter clients and shelter providers during the journey from shelter entry to move-out to permanent housing.

The ultimate goal of the five-step process is for shelter clients to successfully move to new permanent housing, via one of twelve major twelve rehousing options, which range from supportive housing to private market-rate housing. Each tool or material generated by the project plays a role in supporting staff and clients in tracking and completing one or more of the steps, based on their chosen rehousing pathway. 

In addition to tools and materials designed for use by shelter staff and homeless New Yorkers in shelter contexts (the Five Steps to Home Tools), project outputs also include staff onboarding tools and a set of tools for monitoring implementation of the Five Steps model at a given shelter site.

Five Steps to Home Visual Explainer

This visual explainer, designed to be distributed digitally and/or printed poster-size and hung at shelters helps clients visualize the rehousing process.

Five Steps to Home Worksheets

The worksheets—one for each step of the rehousing process—guide conversations between staff and their clients, create transparency about the rehousing process, and align staff and client expectations around progress. Each worksheet includes a set of prompts that ensure clients understand and can complete the requirements to move to the next step.

Five Steps to Home Worksheets​

The worksheets, which can be distributed digitally and used in hard copy, explain the five steps in detail. The reverse side of each sheet offers tips and resources that may be helpful to clients during that phase.

Paths to Home Visual Explainer

The Paths to Home flowchart visualizes the twelve exit pathways from shelter to permanent housing, creating transparency around the eligibility requirements for each and supporting collaborative decision-making between staff and clients.

Eligibility Table

The Eligibility Table compiles eligibility criteria across each of the twelve rehousing paths in a desk reference format for shelter and agency staff to compare programs at a glance and determine whether a client currently or may soon meet a pathway’s requirements.

Paths to Home Visual Explainer

The flowchart is a visual conversations tool which supports staff in determining the best exit pathway for their clients.

Eligibility Table

The eligibility table supports the client-facing flowchart, enabling staff to identify and confirm eligibility across potential exit pathways.

Caseload Review Instructions and Meeting Agenda

The Caseload Review Instructions provide guidance for shelter staff on how to export caseload data—including which of the five steps each of their clients is in—from DHS’s case management system, CARES. This report helps staff gain a better understanding of their caseload’s complexity and their clients’ progress. The Meeting Agenda is a companion tool that staff can use to guide shelter case-review meetings with CARES data in hand. It’s a template that includes agenda items covering caseload reporting, needs for support, and best practices.

Welcome Home Text Message

The automated Welcome Home Text Message was a prototype of a text message that would be sent to clients shortly after they move out of shelter into permanent housing. It would congratulate clients on their move and offer links to support services outside of the shelter—such as Homebase, New York City’s eviction-prevention service—with the aim of reducing the likelihood of returning to shelter. PPL completed a proof-of-concept for this tool, which strongly suggested that it would be an important tool for helping clients feel supported as they adjust to their new, permanent home.

 

Prototype testing suggested that a text message with links to support services would help clients feel supported during their transition out of shelter. 

Project Implementation

In 2021, DHS began to offer trainings based on the Five Steps to Home model to all New York City shelter staff, helping them to internalize the five-step framework and understand how to use the associated tools. Beginning in 2022, DHS made the Five Steps to Home suite of tools and materials available to shelters citywide.

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