Diversion as an approach to homelessness

Hi everyone. I’m Joann Boblick, Manager of Stabilization Services. That encompasses a lot, but I basically help people who are struggling to remain in their homes stay in them. I want to talk about one of the new ways we do this: a strategy known as Diversion. Cook County has begun a pilot program to fund this service, and we were one of the first in the region to begin offering it. 

You might ask, “Isn’t that what BEDS already does with Homelessness Prevention and Stabilization?,” and you’d be right. Both Homelessness Prevention and Diversion programs intervene in the lives of people about to become homelessness, but the difference comes in when they take effect. 


Think of becoming homeless as a two-stage process: 

1.) Someone’s at “imminent risk” of losing their housing. They have been spending too much on rent or mortgage payments, living paycheck to paycheck, and have no savings. They took a pay cut or lost their job, had a serious injury or illness, or went through a divorce or death in the family. 

2.) Now, they have just lost their home. They do not know exactly what to do and are incredibly worried about the future. They call or visit an organization like BEDS to find shelter for the night. 

Homelessness Prevention intervenes during stage one to provide financial assistance for past due housing payments and security deposits. It’s great for people who have a little time, but it can only fund a few strictly defined expenses and requires a relatively extensive application).  

Diversion happens at stage two, and it can provide faster, more flexible assistance to keep people out of shelter. (This might seem like hair-splitting, but it’s the way human service researchers, policy makers, and professionals break down issues and create solutions.) 


“Daniel’s” experience might make this clearer. He walked into our offices after his power had been turned off. His wife had unexpectedly passed away a year ago, leaving him underemployed and the sole provider for three daughters. Forecasters had projected the day to be one of the hottest of the summer, and “Daniel” worried that he and the girls would have to stay in emergency shelter and face eviction.  

Our Diversion program paid his utility bill, restoring air conditioning, and keeping the family out of shelters from where regaining housing would have been exponentially more difficult. We paired “Daniel” with our Family Case Manager, who is helping him find affordable childcare, secure stable employment, and ensure that similar crises do not occur. 


One last thought. While I’ve seen the powerful difference Diversion can make, I really do not like the name. It’s not an organization swooping in like a savior and diverting a person or family who has strayed. Instead it begins with a problem-solving conversation where we can learn about the client and how we can help them get back to their lives.