As we step into the adaptive cycle a little deeper (I introduced the concept here) , we can use it as a framework for organizational growth or program design. One of the programs that I’ve watched evolve of the years is Housing First. A little over 10 years ago a new strategy emerged in the fight to end homelessness. Shelters and transitional housing had become a “bottleneck” in the homeless system. Households were staying up to two years. No people on the street could find emergency shelter and the overall number of homeless people when you counted those in shelters and on the street were growing. Advocates and the federal government developed the concept of Housing First; a fairly simple notion that you rapidly put homeless people in a more stable, permanent housing environment, usually an apartment, and provide services so that they may stay in that housing.
Housing First was a new idea and we saw it grow. Evidence across the country began to demonstrate the fact that this concept was successful. Simply put it went through the traditional “S” curve of the adaptive cycle. It was developed, it grew and it matured. Of course, during the growth and maturity phase, we collected data about whether or not it would work. We counted households who were succeeding. We created methods to monitor the project. We made sure to replicate it as close to the original model as possible (sometimes you’ll hear the concept of maintaining fidelity to the model in order to ensure success). These are all systems we put into place in order to ensure the growth and maturity of an intervention. However, it had different results for different populations. We soon had to release the notion that one exact intervention would be appropriate for homeless households, so people explored and reorganized.
We soon discovered that Permanent Supportive Housing was the ideal Housing First choice for individuals with a chronic disabling condition. Low to moderate need households could be successful with Rapid Rehousing; they could receive support and rental assistance for 6 months and that worked well. These were all innovations that were built as a result of that initial concept/intervention known as Housing First. Housing First moved through the cycle and we explored the options to better meet the unique and diverse needs of homeless households. These new innovations are moving through that adaptive cycle as well. We are building systems to monitor and replicate these interventions, they are becoming examples of best practices. But just like any cycle, it will reach a plateau and work for only a certain portion of these households. In fact, anecdotal evidence is suggesting that Rapid Rehousing households are only successful if they have long term income after their rental subsidy ends after a period of six months.
As nonprofit or human service professionals we must remember that program design moves through these cycles and that we too must adapt so that we can continue best supporting those in need.