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How to Promote Self-Sufficiency in Shelters: Housing First & Social Inclusion Models

By Haley Cummings, VISTA Communications Liaison

Housing models can play a big role in a homeless person's progression into permanent housing and inclusion in the community. In the United States, the most common housing models include the ‘staircase model’ and the ‘housing first model’.

First, the ‘staircase model’ or ‘continuum of care’ assists the person’s “progress from one form of provision to another on the basis of their perceived ability (as assessed by professional staff) to move on to the next stage” (Christian 16). To reach the final stage (permanent housing) clients need to demonstrate they can cope on their own and are ‘tenancy ready’. However, due to the barriers, the staircase model has it can be challenging to access care.

The second model is the housing first approach. Developed in the early 1990’s, housing first “seeks to promote social integration through the delivery and sustainment of settled, independent housing” (Quilgars 2). This approach gives clients a place to stay while they work to overcome other barriers in their lives. As a housing first shelter, Willis Dady envisions empowering clients to break the cycle of homelessness and become self-sufficient.

Another benefit of the housing first model is the ability for clients to get involved and feel more included. This feeling of inclusion is called social inclusion: it is “the extent to which formerly homeless people are able to live, work, learn and participate in their communities as they wish to, and with as many opportunities as other members of the wider community” (Quilgars 3). To feel fully included there are three types of integration that need to be satisfied. First is physical integration, this includes participation in activities, programs, and materials. Next is social integration, which includes social interactions with other members of the community. Lastly is physiological integration, the feeling of being a part of the community and having a voice (Quilgars 4). These three forms of integration lead to a person feeling included in the community around them.

While at housing first shelters, clients can participate in a number of activities to become more familiar with the community they are in as well as others at the shelter. In their efforts to support social inclusion Willis Dady facilitates many opportunities for clients to get involved. The first social inclusion opportunity through Willis Dady is focus groups. Focus groups, used to help clients gain skills that can connect them to the community, are held once every other week. Some of the previous programs include topics such as substance abuse resources, sexual assault resources, healthy shopping, and how to open a checking account. Yoga and tai chi, two of the most recent programs, allowed clients to exercise their body as well as their mind. Clients that regularly participated found this group helped more than they expected it to. Skills learned in focus groups provide clients a gateway to social inclusion. After attending these focus groups, permanently housed clients feel going to a yoga class or opening a checking account isn’t so daunting. The employment program is another great opportunity for clients to become involved in their community. In this program Willis Dady partners with local organizations to meet the needs of the business and provide employment to clients. Whether clients are staying in shelter or their own housing they can build connections at their job. Lastly, clients in the Rapid Re-Housing program are supported by their case managers in order to get connected to resources and information throughout the city. Some of these resources include therapy groups, AA meetings, churches, events happening throughout the city, as well as many more.

Willis Dady’s efforts in helping their clients reach social inclusion doesn’t benefit only the clients but the surrounding community as well. Many other lives are touched through these social inclusion efforts. Clients find a group of people to support them and those organizations benefit from a wonderful new person joining them. Those outside of Willis Dady who take the time to include clients in their communities see the benefits of these added connections.

Through their housing first model and access to social inclusion resources, Willis Dady Homeless Services will continue to support clients on their journey to break the cycle of homelessness and build self-sufficiency.

Haley wrote this blog as a VISTA Communications Liaison at Willis Dady Homeless Services. If you would like to write a blog for Willis Dady, reach out to Sierra at 319-362-7555 or by email at to learn more about our Guest Blog Writer volunteer opportunity.

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