What is Homelessness Prevention?

What is Homelessness Prevention? 

This month, we’ve been looking at our Homelessness Prevention program, which has been essential to keep people in Southwest Suburban Cook County housed in the wake of COVID-19 and its socioeconomic effects.  

What is Homelessness Prevention? 

The Illinois Department of Human Services defines homelessness prevention as: 

Rental/mortgage assistance, utility assistance, approved case management and approved supportive services directly related to the prevention of homelessness to eligible individuals and families who are in danger of eviction, foreclosure or homelessness or are currently homeless. 

Alongside this assistance, we help prevention clients build income through new or better jobs and government benefits programs.  

Who does this program target? 

We typically describe Homeless Prevention clients as facing imminent risk of homelessness, in which they will lose housing within two weeks without an alternative destination. Obviously, the causes of that risk look different for different households, but we know there are some common indicators: 

  • Having used homeless shelters in the past 
  • Holding household debt1 
  • Receiving government benefits 
  • Amassing past due rent 
  • Being notified of eviction (verbally or formal document) 
  • Living “doubled up” in another person’s home/not holding the lease to residence 

Certainly, not every household with one or more of these traits is at imminent risk of homelessness; although they live in a perpetual state of housing instability. Colombia University economist Brendan O’Flaherty argues that whether someone ends up losing their home depends on what he terms “a conjunction of unfortunate circumstances”—in other words, bad luck.2 

How do you qualify for assistance?  

Typical Homelessness Prevention households are lower income; housing burdened (devoting more than 30 percent of their income to housing); and recovering from a financial crisis like a job loss or hours reduction; accident or illness; and/or change in family makeup like death or divorce. When applying, they need to provide extensive documentation of these issues. Unfortunately, the specifics fluctuate. Manager of Stabilization Services Joann Boblick describes how “many times, people living in different communities have different prerequisites due to different funders and/or distributors, and program requirements have been constantly changing because of COVID-19 relief efforts and their expiration.” Our Homeless Prevention case managers help clients navigate shifting requirements and secure assistance. 

Can you give me an example? 

Filiberto was learning a new trade to change to a better paying career when his vehicle broke down. He did not immediately have money for repairs or a new car, and he lost his training position. He eventually found temporary work through a staffing agency, but after his mother passed away, he took more time off to visit family in Mexico. When he returned, he and his two children were behind on rent and in danger of eviction. BEDS connected the family with Homelessness Prevention assistance, and they stayed in their apartment. Filiberto resumed steady work and training to be a machinist. 

Since January, we’ve provided about $1.19 million in assistance to 180 households like Filiberto’s who were at imminent risk of homelessness. After 3 months in the program, 214 household members gained employment.