This is a question from our Q&A series connected by Infotech.
A diversion is a service that attempts to get someone the help they need - safe housing - before they enter the shelter system. It’s a process to help people uncover resources and opportunities they may not know they have available to them. Using motivational interviewing techniques and a script to explore alternatives, we can learn where someone stayed previously, what it would take to keep them there, and what other options might exist.
Successful diversions require immediate access to the resources that can solve the person’s housing crisis. For some, this is a bus ticket to stay with a relative. For others, it includes assurance to the person they were living with that we will provide support to help them find another housing alternative if they can stay there while that process happens. For others, it’s grocery store gift cards to help with the food budget in their current location, or gas cards so they can get to work.
The first time I heard about “diversions,” I was incredibly skeptical. Why would someone show up to a homeless shelter asking for help if they didn’t truly need it? Two years into running a diversion program, we’ve learned a lot about it. Today, we’re able to help one out of every four people seeking shelter without them ever needing to enter the shelter. Last year, GRACE diverted 163 people into safe housing.
A good diversion program has two major impacts on homelessness. First, it prevents individuals from entering the housing crisis response system unless they absolutely need it. Second, it frees up critically needed emergency shelter beds for individuals without a safe alternative. For each of those 163 people diverted, 163 other people were able to enter the emergency shelter and receive the full range of services they required to end their homelessness.
Diversion is both an art and a science. It requires extensive in-house expertise and a wide knowledge of available community resources to successfully keep someone out of shelter. At an average cost of $250 per person, it’s by far our highest-impact, lowest-cost program, and it’s one of the best tools we have to end homelessness while making sure we’re using our limited resources in the most effective way possible.