Terminology Change at Homelessness Service Agencies including BEDS Plus Care: "Interim Housing"
The words we use for our clients and services continuously change. These shifts reflect evolution in academic, human service, and popular cultural thought about homelessness and related issues. Recently, the National Alliance to End Homelessness has started to refer emergency shelter programs as “interim housing.” They made the decision after hearing people who have been homeless describe how the words emergency shelter have “stigmatizing and traumatizing impacts.” We’re adopting the term as well, and we want to provide you with a few more details.
What Is “Interim Housing?”
The Alliance emphasizes that “Interim Housing” does not describe a single program. Instead, it refer[s] to a full range of shorter-term, crisis options for temporary accommodations which may currently be referred to by a variety of terms: congregate or non-congregate emergency shelter; navigation centers; bridge housing; transitional housing; or other models or terms.
How Will BEDS Plus Use the Term “Interim Housing?”
We’ve created a new Interim Housing service line that includes programs we developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Motel-Based Interim Housing: Earlier emergency shelter models kept dozens of clients in proximity, which caused a lack of privacy, sleep deprivation, and risk of COVID-19 and other serious illnesses. We’re using area motel rooms to house people experiencing homelessness for up to 90 days. This gives them private, more dignified settings where they can recover and prepare to enter Transitional and/or Supportive Housing.
- Family Bridge Interim Housing: Families struggle in group homeless shelter conditions. Group shelters can strain family relations, stunt children’s emotional and academic growth, and cause trauma. We’ve leased area apartment units where families that would use homeless shelters can stay for up to 24 months and receive intensive case management to regain and sustain stable housing.
We have programs that fall under the Alliance’s definition of Interim Housing which we refer to as Transitional Housing. These include specialized extended housing for vulnerable homeless populations like families, transition-aged youth, older adults, domestic violence survivors, and victims of crime. The term aligns with how government and private funders label these programs, and we use it to ensure we’re consistent with their expectations and requirements.
What Should I Take Away from the New Term?
We encourage you to start thinking about and referring to homeless shelter programs as “Interim Housing.” We’re probably best known for our emergency shelter, which ran from our opening in 1988 until shortly after the outbreak of COVID-19. We recognize how the term has become ubiquitous in reference to us and the services in general. “Interim Housing” may not seem as intuitive, and like the Alliance describes, it includes “a full range” of programs that extend beyond group shelters. This ambiguity is intentional, and it challenges us to imagine different, better ways that we can serve people experiencing homelessness.