1986 Finalist
City of Memphis, Tennessee
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

High unemployment rates in 1982-1983 drew national attention to the problem of homelessness caused by loss of income. In 1983, informal discussions in Memphis between federal officials, city government, and the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA), a local human services provider, led to the proposal for the Emergency Homes for Families (EHF) program. Determined support from the mayor's office, city council, and local Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) officials, combined with the excellent record and reputation of MIFA as an effective and cost-efficient administrator of emergency assistance programs, enabled the rapid realization of the initiative. The program began at the direction of the mayor who instructed the Memphis Housing and Community Development office to allocate $50,000 for the renovation of 10 HUD houses. The Memphis City Council stepped in to supply the initial funding for the program when FEMA funds were disallowed at the last minute.

Emergency Homes for Families is noteworthy for a number of reasons. First, the program represents a true partnership among a variety of institutions within the city, including the city administration and the city council, both of which actively participated in getting the program operating. Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA), a voluntary association in Memphis, liaised between the city government, church groups, private foundations, and the numerous public and private agencies dealing with the challenges of placing homeless families. By combining their efforts, partner organizations were able to respond to the needs of the homeless population quickly and nimbly: In just two months, the city of Memphis had selected 10 HUD homes for renovation. By that October, the city council had allocated funds for repair of the units and administration of a program. In December, the first family moved into their new home.

The Emergency Homes for Families program is also well integrated into the general emergency assistance system within Memphis: Service records, managed by MIFA, are shared through a computer system by all partner agencies. A contract institutionalizes the relationship between the city government and MIFA. In addition, each participating family benefits from sponsorship, a relationship that is similarly outlined in a formal accord in which two parties agree to work together in support of a family’s transition into HUD housing. Sponsors are volunteers who help furnish houses, make requisite repairs, counsel families, and raise funds in support of the program. Over 3,000 individual volunteers participate in the Emergency Homes for Families program each year.

The success of the Emergency Homes for Families program is evaluated in terms of: a) securing and maintaining suitable housing units which provide sufficient transitional shelter; b) assisting families in receiving the services required to become stable and to secure suitable permanent housing; and c) increasing the participation and support of the private sector. In just the first year of program operation, the program grew the number of homeless families served from 43 (comprised of 172 individuals) to 64 (comprised of 248 individuals). In that same period, more than a 20 percent increase in homeless families transitioned into permanent housing. Lastly, success of this initiative is evident in that the number of private groups involved more than tripled between 1984 and 1985.