For parents whose children have been placed in foster care, lack of stable housing is a major factor in preventing families from being reunited — the main cause, in fact, 40 percent of the time in Philadelphia, reports WHYY, and a third of the time nationally.
So Philly’s Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Office of Homeless Services (OHS) have partnered in the launch of Rapid Re-Housing for Reunification, a program that helps parents get into affordable housing faster, in hopes that it will help reunite them with their children.
The program requires that families find their own housing and pay 30% of their income toward rent, the city said in a press release; rapid re-housing will subsidize the rest of their rent for a year. It’s aimed at people who would be reunified with their children in the next six months if not for their housing instability. WHYY reports that parents don’t need to be homeless to qualify, but could also be couch-surfing or living in a substandard rental.
The program is the first of its kind in the nation, although rapid re-housing programs in general have become popular in the last decade, WHYY reports. Philadelphia runs its own rapid re-housing programs for other populations, with the help of a number of providers, including Congreso de Latinos Unidos, which is also partnering with DHS and OHS on the new program.
“It is exciting to see DHS apply this model to child welfare,” OHS director Liz Hersh said in a statement. “We know from experience that rapid rehousing is the first step to getting people off of the street and in this case bringing families back together where they belong.”
Rapid re-housing for people experiencing homelessness has proven to be effective. It’s a “housing first” model, meaning that people aren’t screened out of the program based on criteria such as income, criminal history, medical history, and employment. Federal funding for rapid re-housing programs nationwide helped several hundred thousand people in the first three years of the program, Next City reported in 2012. Philly’s press release on the new program says that overall, one year after exiting the rapid re-housing program, 70 percent of families were in stable housing, without a subsidy, implying that housing stability has a quantifiable effect on helping families get back on their feet.
The Philly family reunification program expects to serve 30 families in the first year of the pilot; since it started at the end of May, ten families have already been identified, WHYY says. The program is funded for three years with $350,000 from the Barra Foundation.
Rachel Kaufman is a journalist covering transportation, sustainability, science and tech. Her writing has appeared in Inc., National Geographic News, Scientific American and more.