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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

IUPUI, Heartland Alliance, and CSH Partner to Improve Nationwide Housing First Programs

Professionals in the homeless service and housing sectors now have access to e-learning modules and distance-based technical assistance to strengthen their knowledge and their programs’ fidelity to the Housing First model. Housing First connects people experiencing homelessness to permanent housing without barriers to entry.


[Photo: Dr. Dennis Watson]

The Housing First Technical Assistance and Training program was created by Dr. Dennis P. Watson, a researcher and associate professor at the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health – Indianapolis, and staff at Heartland Alliance Health’s Midwest Harm Reduction Institute in Chicago. The work was part of a larger study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The e-learning modules are self-paced, on-demand courses that can be accessed from any computer. The four modules are “Introduction to the Housing First Philosophy,” “Housing Case Management,” “Strategies for Working with Participants” and “Running a Housing First Program.” The training takes four to six hours to complete, depending on the individual learner.

The Corporation for Supportive Housing, or CSH, offers the modules through its Supportive Housing Training Center for purchase individually as a curriculum or as part of their subscription service. The modules give agencies online access to the critical information for Housing First implementation, along with other training resources. Ms. Nicole Bahena, associate director of the CSH Supportive Housing Training Center, said the modules already are having an impact.

“Our preliminary research demonstrates high learning satisfaction and positive implementation outcomes for participating housing agencies,”  Ms. Bahena said. “These e-learning modules are convenient too, allowing practitioners to get the training they need right from their desks.”

Dr. Watson said the modules were created due to a lack of well-described, testable strategies to implement the Housing First model. Unlike programs that require proof of “housing readiness” through attaining employment, sobriety and medication compliance, Housing First requires no preconditions and few service requirements. Dr. Watson said Housing First has been demonstrated to lead to significant improvements for individuals who are chronically homeless, including higher housing retention and improved physical and behavioral health.

“But we encounter programs called ‘Housing First’ that do not fully understand what the model entails,” Dr. Watson said. “Most often, these programs do not implement the harm reduction component that is essential to being able to work successfully with the population Housing First was designed to serve.” Ms. Valery Shuman, senior director at Heartland Alliance Health, said the organization’s Midwest Harm Reduction Institute has provided Housing First training in Chicago and beyond since 2004.

“We wanted to make the adoption and implementation of the Housing First model accessible to organizations with limited funds and limited staff time,” said Ms. Shuman, who explained that transitioning from in-person training to an e-learning format and offering distance-based consultation seemed a great way to increase accessibility.

“Our National Institute on Drug Abuse funding allowed us to research whether this model would be as impactful,” Ms. Shuman said. “People definitely understand the Housing First model better after the e-learning modules, and the consultation helps them put that learning into practice. The more questions and real-world situations staff bring to the consultations, the richer the dialogue and learning.”