NFF spoke with The Road Home as well as the Community Foundation of Utah and Sorenson Impact Center about the Salt Lake County Pay for Success Homes Not Jail Project; specifically about the service provider’s outcomes in action. This blog is part of an interview series with selected project partners from our Social Innovation Fund transaction structuring competition.
NFF: Before we speak about the Pay for Success projects, tell us about the Road Home and how you all became interested in tracking and delivering on outcomes. What was the original impetus? How did the shift come to fruition?
The Road Home: The Road Home is the central provider of homeless services in Salt Lake County. Our history is steeped in providing high quality emergency services and shelter to individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Our housing services include Rapid Rehousing for families and veterans, and Permanent Supportive Housing. Since 2000, we have also worked to be the central housing provider for households overcoming homelessness. Our Client Engagement Team offers assistance to low-income and homeless individuals on a walk-in basis with obtaining documents, training, and supplies needed to transition back into the workforce, remain employed, qualify for housing, and more. Our Case Management Team help individuals identify and overcome the barriers causing them to be homeless, in addition to connecting them to community resources that help the individual leave shelter and live successfully in our community.
Our original impetus for exploring Pay for Success came from our desire to know if our programs are effective, not only in helping people move out of homelessness, but effective for them over the long term. We want the disruption of homelessness to result in a better quality of life for people, which is why we’ve always known the value of outcome focused, evidence-based programs and supports. In order to effectively serve our community and fulfill our organizational mission, we need to comprehensively understand why individuals are homeless and how we can best structure our programs to incite meaningful change. For over a decade, the Road Home has collected extensive data on shelter services and most importantly, transition into housing services.
NFF: What inspired you all to take the delivery of outcomes to the next level, in responding to the Pay for Success RFPs? What were the biggest drivers? The things that gave you the most hesitation?
The Road Home: When Salt Lake County began to talk about PFS we were very interested in the model. The cross section of individuals who have a high prevalence of criminal justice, mental health and homeless services involvement was a natural fit for our mission. Having so many partners involved (Third Sector, Sorenson Impact Center, The Community Foundation of Utah and others like NFF) only clarified our goals and helped us hone in on real, impactful outcomes. Being a part of a PFS project gave us the best of all the worlds: delivering high quality services aimed at helping people leave homelessness, setting outcomes before initiating a program, and ultimately getting rigorous evaluative data that will help us further the field and our mission.
The HiNJ (Homes Not Jail) project is the Road Home’s first formal push into serving high service utilizers who are not chronically homeless, but instead are persistently homeless (defined as homelessness for between 3 and 11 months). This population within our community has unique needs compared to those who are chronically homeless, so we wanted to make sure that we created a program that equitably and effectively serves this population. Focusing on rapid re-housing to serve high service utilizers that are persistently homeless wasn’t necessarily something we hesitated to do, but we really had to think about how this program would ensure people would not become chronically homeless and how our outcomes could guide that idea. Our team made significant efforts to obtain and match data and information from a variety of data sources in order to determine potential program impact levels and now that we have launched our pilot program, we have the advantage of watching short and long-term outcomes and are driven by making sure we track and understand the effects of our services in real time.
NFF: As you know, the shift towards outcomes can be challenging and the road to launching a PFS project is a long one! Can you share with us what the biggest challenge operating in an outcomes environment has been to date? How have you overcome this challenge?
The Road Home: It was indeed a long road to launch HiNJ. The biggest challenge for us in moving to a sole outcomes based project plan was in the preliminarily proving that what we believed to be true throughout the program design phase would actually be true throughout program implementation. The program components we settled on had not yet been evaluated for the population of persistently homeless individuals. Research suggests that 43% of persistently homeless individuals, defined as individuals that have spent between 90-364 days in emergency shelter within the past year, become chronically homeless within two years and nearly half of those individuals are booked into the Salt Lake County Jail. There wasn’t a lot of data available that could help us prove the outcomes we knew could be achieved, so we did a lot of reaching out to other providers and research firms to help us build that initial body of information. With the help of Third Sector and Sorenson Impact Center we were able to get data from other sectors that we hadn’t drawn from before, and that information helped create a solid foundation from which to develop our outcome goals.
In the actual program implementation—we’re now three months in—we have already seen that our focus is sound and that participants are responding in a very positive way. We have every reason to believe that the project will be successful and that the lives of participants will be transformed for the better.