In time-limited housing support programs, when and how we end the housing support process requires careful thought.
Disengagement has a slew of other names in our sector. Graduation. Program exit. Program end. Service delivery conclusion. etc. I am going to go with disengagement, and in this blog, I am talking about planned, voluntary termination of time in a program because the program participant has been successful in the program. I am not talking about involuntary, unplanned ends of program involvement.
Because we are looking at disengagement in the context of time-limited programs, the time factor is a variable that should, whenever possible, exist as a goal post rather than fixed absolute. For example, having a six month program that expels people from a program because six months is up rather than because goals were reached, will have the unintended consequence of having people return to homelessness. The time factor should have us reverse engineering the milestones that need to be reached to allow for the self-sufficiency after disengagement to occur.
Disengagement is best implemented by having a transition process when goals are reached and self-sufficiency seems to be intact. To be clear, I don't know if there is any absolute way of accurately measuring self-sufficiency, so this is more of an informed opinion on the part of the housing support worker and the program participant than having a finite checklist of criteria to be met. (For example, I am not advocating communities dust off the Self-Sufficiency Matrix and start using it as the measure for ending supports.) What we can measure, though, is whether goals are being reached and whether a variety of life skills have been learned. It can be helpful use tools like the Effective Exit Worksheet that you can get from the Products section of our website.
Disengagement is worth acknowledging as a milestone in the journey of being in a program and exiting homelessness, but I am not sure it is worth celebrating with cake and whatnot the way some programs do. By the time we get to disengagement I would expect that supports would have gradually been withdrawn to the point where the supports end with a whimper rather than a bang. And besides, disengagement is really about the program participant growing, changing and adapting to the point where they can integrate all of the knowledge and skills development received through the case management support; it isn't about taking a victory lap of some sort.
Speaking of the program participant interests, I think disengagement is more likely to be successful if we keep them front and centre in the planning of the disengagement. At the start of the program the participant should know that disengagement is the goal in the time-limited program. The program participant should know, transparently and from the beginning, what the criteria are for disengagement.
Disengagement may mean the end of case management support from a housing worker, but that does not mean that all supports from other community providers must also come to an end. For disengagement to work well there can be a whole process of linking the program participant to alternative community resources, and where necessary and with consent, to have information about the disengagement shared with other community service providers.
It is not uncommon for program participants to have concerns before or during the disengagement process. It is best that there is open dialogue to name these and address each one. It can be helpful to start this process months before the actual disengagement.