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How to secure grants for transitional housing programs

December 12, 2021
Two young businesswomen work on a laptop and tablet to secure grant funding for transitional housing programs.

Safe housing is one of the most basic needs next to food, water, and clothing. But for many vulnerable populations like survivors of abuse, recovering addicts, and ex-prisoners, providing transitional and emergency housing often requires more than just four walls and a roof. 

To be successful, transitional housing programs need secure and sustainable funding so they can provide both beds and ongoing program support. Securing a grant requires much more than fancy writing and smooth talking. You’ll need to clean up your data and engage members of your community to succeed. 

Let’s explore how to grow your transitional housing organization’s impact by winning grants and building connections.

1. Understand your options

The first step in obtaining grants is to research your funding opportunities. Only apply for the grants that best match your organization’s purpose and needs to improve your chances of earning funding and avoid wasting time and energy. 

Here are some federal programs you can apply to:

In addition to federal funding opportunities, you’ll likely have grants offered by your state or city to consider as well. Analyze each grant’s requirements to decide if it aligns with your ongoing goals. Each program has different prerequisites, so adjust your approach for each grant you apply for. Carefully crafting each proposal is crucial to maximizing your chances of success. 

2. Obtain an updated HMIS

In the late 1990s, the United States’ housing policy radically changed in response to a congressional mandate to serve homeless populations with federal dollars. The federal Interagency Council on Homelessness successfully pushed for a focus on goal-setting and data-driven strategies to end homelessness. Now, most federal and private grants for housing assistance require the implementation of a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS)

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an HMIS “is a local information technology system used to collect customer-level data and data on the provision of housing and services to homeless individuals and families and persons at risk of homelessness.”

Housing services are responsible for selecting an HMIS software solution that complies with HUD’s data collection, management, and reporting standards. Any effort to secure grants for transitional housing should include a clear plan for leveraging a HUD-compliant HMIS, such as Bonterra Program Management’s Case Management solution.

Proactive selection and integration of an HMIS are critical to your organization’s success. High-quality HMIS software not only helps ensure HUD compliance but also streamlines program management and data collection. Most importantly, it will allow the beneficiaries of your housing program to receive the best services from your staff.

From a funding perspective, early integration and data collection demonstrate your organization’s ability to comply with federal regulations and allow you to make a strong case for transitional housing grants. Using an HMIS can demonstrate early success, awareness of the state of homelessness, use of resources, key challenges, and strategic focus on your purpose.

3. Choose an optimal location

If your program is new, spend time researching your location. Just like any other real estate deal, location is critical for transitional housing. Your beneficiaries will need access to community resources, including:

  • Public transportation.
  • Potential places of employment.
  • Schools and community colleges.
  • Health care clinics and hospitals.
  • Grocery stores and shops.

In addition to considering local zoning requirements, you should also look into any legal restrictions on the type of residents or services offered at your site. For example, if your program provides shelter for formerly incarcerated individuals or recovering addicts, laws such as those restricting sex offenders from receiving housing or the distribution of certain medicines may affect your site’s proximity to schools, day care centers, parks, and other places where children are present.

Organizations with established housing assistance sites may already be tied to a location. But they can still consider how to leverage and improve their chances of capturing grant funds by thinking critically about their location’s strengths and weaknesses.

Established programs benefit from correlating programming data (or projections) with location-specific information. An HMIS gives you the ability to capture information at the point of service, which can help you compare across programs and sites to understand why you might see different outcomes in different locations.

If you see one site underperforming compared to another, analyzing a successful housing program may shed insight into how the two locations are different and give you ideas for how to improve. With that quantified data, you’ll have facts to back up your proposal and a better chance of securing funding.

4. Foster community ties

Unfortunately, it’s common for transitional and emergency housing facilities to face opposition from potential neighbors. You may not be able to eliminate or avoid all opposition, but building strong community ties is critical for the success of your program and is key to showing funders that your program is sustainable.

Reach out to residents, business owners, and local government officials to earn their support and help resolve their concerns. Often, these conversations require you to reframe your services to gain public support. They are also great opportunities to listen strategically and identify how different metrics can help you connect with these potential supporters and partners.

For example, if local residents are concerned about increased crime due to your housing program, tracking and reporting related metrics about the safety of your program and the reduced likelihood of second offenses gives you the tools to combat those concerns. You might also share data about positive outcomes related to education, job placement, use of first-time homebuyer loan programs, and self-sufficiency that show how your program participants are ultimately contributing to the neighborhood.

You can also discover if your community has needs that overlap with the needs of your beneficiaries. For example, you might discover that schools and public health officials are concerned about access to mental health resources for children and teens. Your data can help you project the need for outside referrals to counselors and other clinicians with that expertise. That data gives you a powerful case for encouraging professionals to consider setting up a practice in your neighborhood, helping out your own program, and providing solutions for the broader community.

Organizations like Safe Alternatives to Violent Environments (SAVE) in Baltimore, MD understand how to integrate transitional housing into broader programs that address the underlying needs of those who don’t have a safe place to call home. These groups often find themselves gaining community acceptance, securing funding, and making a difference.

5. Work with your beneficiaries

The foundation of your nonprofit’s continued success is how you tell your story. Stories centered around your beneficiaries help to humanize your organization and show grantmakers your impact. 

When crafting your grant proposals, reach out to your beneficiaries to conduct interviews and learn their stories. Consider how to compile and present these stories to demonstrate how your organization’s purpose aligns with each grantmaker. Of course, you should always present their stories truthfully to maintain ethical storytelling standards.

The bottom line about grants for transitional housing programs

Securing funding for transitional housing is a tough job that requires a multilateral effort from your entire team and your beneficiaries. But as long as you’re strategic and center your beneficiaries, you’ll find allies in your community. 

If you’re running a transitional housing program, we not only commend you, but we’re excited to support you. If you’re in need of a case management solution, consider contacting us today to see if this platform could help you make your case and secure the funding you need to do good.

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    Program Management
  • Human services
  • Nonprofits
  • Public agencies
  • Coordinating social services
  • Grant management & grant making