By navigating housing options within an existing social network, ShelterCare’s REDS program (Rapid Exit and Diversion Services) works to help newly unhoused individuals avoid overwhelmed emergency shelters and unsheltered living situations. Shadowing alongside two of RED’s Rapid Resolution Specialists, I was able to get a firsthand look at the work they do in our community. On a warm afternoon, I followed the team over to a popular spot where community members experiencing homelessness hang out. We set up a table, put out some snacks and water, and waited for people to come by.
As people came to the table one by one, each inquired about why we were there. Either Chelsea or David, the Rapid Resolution Specialists, would explain the REDS program. Each pitch was a little different, but essentially the same. “If you know anyone who you can stay with, but they live in a different state, or the relationship needs mediation, or maybe we could help with the electric bill as payment for letting you stay, we can help,” they’d say. If someone does fit into one of these situations, the team can then do the necessary resource navigation to get them sheltered. This can look like getting in touch with family members or friends to confirm someone can stay with them, buying tickets to get people to different places around the country, or one of my favorites, helping with the down payment for Oxford housing, a self-run, self-supported recovery house for people struggling with a substance use disorder. The team said that the last option is a popular one, and one of their favorite ways to help, too, particularly because this solution offers a pathway for people to get into long-term, sustainable, and stable housing.
Though a small percentage of people experiencing homelessness fit within the specific categories that the REDS program serves, this has its upsides. Eugene has a number of street outreach programs run by different nonprofit organizations, and at ShelterCare, we strive to reach the specific and niche populations that are not being served by the others so as to avoid duplicating services. This also helps us reach a perhaps small, but nonetheless underserved, population.
One challenge of working with such a diverse group, such as the unhoused community, is that people’s needs and desires regarding housing vary across a wide spectrum. There is no one quick fix or solution that can be applied across the board. The REDS program recognizes that, and has found a way to meet a broad spectrum of unique needs and desires by going directly to the source, and then navigating through people’s social networks to meet their housing needs.
My experience working with the REDS team opened my eyes to the diversity of needs within Eugene’s unhoused population and helped me to understand why outreach programs like REDS are so vitally important.
Please note: the contract for ShelterCare’s REDS program has recently ended.