Family with children smiling with house in the background

Families Maintain Stable Housing with Direct Assistance and Collaboration

2/26/20 by Nona Ferguson

Most of Wilder’s supportive housing services focus on stabilizing families who have experienced homelessness so that they can move into long-term affordable housing. One of our newest efforts focuses on helping families stabilize before they experience homelessness.

Direct Housing Assistance started specifically to support families in Kofi, a Wilder school-based mental health service for African-American students. Wilder began making small cash payments directly to families’ landlords and mortgage holders over nine to 12 months, with the goal of stabilizing families’ housing while their children receive mental health care.

Early results of Direct Housing Assistance are exciting

The outcomes from Direct Housing Assistance speak volumes:

  • 100 percent of families maintained stable housing while landlords were receiving the payments
  • Parents reported experiencing financial relief and less stress and a better ability to manage their finances.
  • Other parents said they improved their credit scores, were able to afford emergency expenses like car repairs, and saved toward a home purchase.

Based on the success of this financial assistance, Wilder expanded Direct Housing Assistance to participants in other Wilder services who are strained by housing costs. We also helped the City of Saint Paul and Saint Paul Public Schools develop the Families First Housing Pilot, which provides rental subsidies and supportive services to families with elementary students in kindergarten through third grade. Wilder will provide program coordination and research evaluation for this pilot.

These housing efforts are part of Wilder’s emphasis on providing integrated services to whole families so they can achieve economic stability across generations, and they started with an intentional, sometimes challenging collaboration across Wilder.

Housing assistance was developed with intentional collaboration

Direct Housing Assistance comes from an effort to help staff at Wilder collaborate more closely to meet the needs of families. Several years ago, Wilder’s school-based mental health team and supportive housing services team held a two-day convening to encourage collaboration among staff. Our goal was both for staff to get to know each other, their work and to co create effective services: We wanted staff to recognize their agency to work together on solutions to family and community needs.

To encourage staff come together, we organized the work using principles from the Art of Hosting to harness the collective wisdom and the self-organizing capacity of our teams. Through the convening and with little direction, staff organized themselves into five work teams who pursued solutions to different needs. The work was challenging, but through intentional, continued collaboration and relationship building, Wilder staff began to innovate solutions, including direct housing assistance.

Previous efforts to bring housing and school-based mental health teams together were difficult, even though we knew families needed both services. Wilder school-based therapists who work with students and families knew that housing costs were a stressor for families. Our supportive housing staff knew how to manage housing assistance. Both teams wanted to work upstream – before families were in crisis. Based on the teams’ collective knowledge and with guidance from families who receive school-based mental health services, the two teams created and were able to fund assistance that makes a difference regardless of whether families belong to a specific housing program.

The initiative is just one way that Wilder provides responsive services with and for clients even when many funding streams have specific requirements for how services are delivered. I’m excited about the commitment of Wilder and the community to continue finding ways to serve the needs of whole families.