Innovation in the Spotlight: Progressive Engagement

Innovation in the Spotlight: Progressive Engagement

Progressive Engagement is a nationally recognized best practice in addressing homelessness, which provides customized levels of assistance to families and preserves the most expensive interventions for households with the most severe barriers to housing success.  Progressive Engagement is a strategy to enable service delivery systems to effectively target resources.


Progressive Engagement refers to a strategy of starting with a small amount of assistance for a large group of people and then adding more assistance as needed.  The National Alliance to End Homelessness has featured Progressive Engagement as an important strategy in the national implementation of the HEARTH Act.  Based on the National Alliance presentation “The HEARTH Academy System Assessment and Design” from October 2010, we have highlighted key components of Progressive Engagement that could be transferable to the Massachusetts system within the constructs of Emergency Assistance and HomeBASE.


Below is an example of how Progressive Engagement has worked in practice.


For every household which becomes homeless in the community, the system responds with a basic level of re-housing assistance – Rapid Re-Housing 1- which could include:

  • List of rental vacancies,
  • Tips about how to find an apartment,
  • Help negotiating with landlords or friends or family members a person could live with, and
  • Some financial assistance for application fees, deposits, etc.


If it becomes clear that the household will not exit homelessness with only this much assistance, then additional assistance is provided, which might include short-term rental assistance and case management—Rapid Re-Housing 2.


At this point, a household could be re-housed, but the job may not be over.


If, at the end of a predetermined period of time, it is clear that the family is going to be evicted, then additional assistance can be provided, such as a medium-term or long-term rental assistance and more intensive case management and supportive services.


At some point, it may become clear that the person will never be able to achieve even modest housing stability, in which case you may want to provide a housing voucher (if the issue is primarily economic) or you may look at permanent supportive housing (if the person would not be able to maintain housing even with a voucher).


In a Progressive Engagement approach, the varying levels of rapid re-housing assistance are provided by the same program or agency, which eliminates the need for families to change programs and respects the importance of the family- case manager relationship.


The benefits of the Progressive Engagement model include:


  • Time to assess the families’ strengths and challenges – you don’t have to be able to predict beforehand how much assistance the family will need to be re-housed.
  • Scarce shelter and re-housing resources can be stretched to serve more families.
  • No disruption for the family.  Families are not moving from program to program, or even using different caseworkers. From their perspective, they stay a short period of time in shelter, and then are assisted to move into permanent housing. Their level of assistance may be increased or decreased, but their living situation is stable.


This approach also has challenges. It means that as a community, we have to find ways to make HomeBASE and our other rental assistance programs fit around families in our homelessness system. For example, we would need to set aside permanent rental subsidies for people that need them. This also requires that the caseworkers are trained and can recognize when a person has achieved enough stability or when they will need further assistance.


Example of Progressive Engagement:


Progressive Engagement and Our System:


HomeBASE should be flexible enough to offer the Commonwealth the ability to structure rental assistance to meet the needs of families facing homelessness. The practice of Progressive Engagement employs ongoing assessment of household needs to determine the types and levels of rental assistance needed.  Progressive Engagement is a model that should be explored and components of the system should be incorporated into the implementation of a reformed HomeBASE and Emergency Assistance system.


The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness identified this Progressive Engagement as a best practice in their federal strategic plan to end homelessness – Opening Doors.  Progressive Engagement has been successfully implemented in communities across the country including Salt Lake City, Utah.  Click here to access a presentation on the use of Progressive Engagement in Salt Lake City.


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