In response to COVID-19, communities are developing strategic housing and homelessness plans that integrate public health promotion with economic recovery. Prevention is key to protecting the community and ensuring housing stability. The 2019 report released by Mecklenburg County, Launch Upstream: Homelessness Prevention in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, provided the community with a comprehensive look at the overall prevention assistance system.
According to the report, “prevention” is defined as a category of assistance that targets households “upstream” from homelessness who are facing housing instability but have not yet lost their housing. Using this definition, prevention assistance exists on a continuum; assistance can be administered prior to the loss of housing as well as after households exit into permanent housing to help them sustain it. Historically, research and intervention funding has been directed at planning interventions for people who have already become homeless.
Prevention includes three tiers of assistance:
- COMMUNITY-WIDE INTERVENTIONS aimed at changing systems and structures that perpetuate housing instability
- CROSS-SECTOR COLLABORATION AND COORDINATION to reduce the prevalence of homelessness
- TARGETED INTERVENTIONS including financial and legal assistance to help households maintain their housing.
In May 2020, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina launched a community project called “Evaluate Upstream: Optimizing the Homelessness Prevention Assistance System” focused on homelessness prevention. The project was funded by a Continuum of Care (CoC) planning grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The goals of the project were to document existing prevention resources across Charlotte-Mecklenburg and determine whether and how they work together, to design an optimally functioning prevention network and to develop an evaluation framework for a homelessness prevention system that is truly impactful in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
The HUD CoC prevention grant provided a unique opportunity to invest in prevention planning “upstream” from homelessness and, more importantly, to do so in a way that focused on what is working or has worked for those who are unstably housed.