Creativity Abounds! Diversion in Housing & Schools
By Katara Jordan, Megan Veith, Klarissa Monteros, and Mehret Tekle-Awarun
Building Changes has seen the powerful impact Diversion is having in our housing work. We believe Diversion could also be applied in schools to creatively help youth and families with students experiencing homelessness. With so many components of Diversion already in place — e.g., counselors, a focus on students’ strengths, teaching students how to problem solve — Diversion can easily transfer into schools. By being person-centered and strengths-based, Diversion in schools focuses on a “whole child” approach, which goes beyond academic achievement. When educators and school districts focus on educating the whole child, students are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. This helps ensure students can thrive at both school and at home.
What is Diversion?
Diversion is a creative, person-centered, problem-solving approach. Through Diversion, a counselor or other provider builds upon a student or family’s strengths to help them solve their own housing crisis by finding permanent housing solutions outside of the mainstream crisis response system (e.g., Emergency Shelter, Rapid Re-Housing, Permanent Supportive Housing). While Diversion may not be a perfect fit for everyone, we are excited about helping people solve their housing crises in new and different ways, since housing solutions are not one-size fits all.
How does Diversion work?
Diversion starts with a conversation, exploring what led to the student or family’s housing crisis and what the student or family thinks it will take to resolve the crisis. Schools or housing providers may then offer a flexible combination of short-term services and one-time financial assistance to help them transition out of homelessness.
In Pierce County, a single father was living in a family shelter with his four daughters. He was struggling because of compounding difficulties created between the legal system and employment hiring practices, which made finding work nearly impossible.
A Diversion counselor had a creative conversation with the father to explore his strengths. She discovered that he really liked painting — the father lit up when he talked about it. Together, he and the counselor came up with a plan to use flexible funding to secure him a business license, business cards, and additional work materials to start his own painting business.
Within 30 days, the father found an apartment and made enough income to pay all the move-in costs himself. He and his daughters have been housed for more than two years.
What are the benefits of Diversion?
- Supports equitable access to services
- Quickly connects people back into their community and support network
- Does not rely on the crisis response system’s housing stock to find a permanent solution
- Provides individual and flexible services
- Encourages creativity
- Can increase the number of opportunities for housing resolution
- Is cost-effective
- Is a philosophy and not a program
How are school districts using Diversion?
School districts are having creative, strengths-focused conversations with students and families experiencing homelessness. They are then using flexible funding for apartment applications, car repairs, food assistance, large unexpected bills, incentivizing landlords to work with a family or students, or to finalize other solutions identified by the student or family.
- Shelton School District uses private funds administered by Mason County HOST to provide one-time assistance to families and youth who can identify stable housing.
- Wenatchee Public Schools partners with the Women’s Resource Center and uses a Diversion approach to provide one-time rental assistance. They also offer funding for utilities and food supports to families and friends who are willing to provide unaccompanied homeless youth and young adults a safe place to stay.
- Bellingham Public Schools works with the Opportunity Council and Northwest Youth Services to provide Diversion support for families and unaccompanied homeless youth.
Katara Jordan, JD, MSW, is Senior Manager of Policy & Advocacy at Building Changes.
Megan Veith, JD, is a Policy & Research Associate at Building Changes.
Klarissa Monteros is Senior Manager of Grantmaking & Capacity Building at Building Changes.
Mehret Tekle-Awarun is Senior Manager of Education Strategy at Building Changes.