After completion of a capital campaign and major construction project in 2000, Hilliard House (now Housing Families First) opened a 30-bed facility in eastern Henrico County for women with children in 2001. The service area was the City of Richmond and Henrico County. It was the first facility of its kind in the area.
For eleven years, Hilliard House provided transitional housing. Some families stayed for as long as two years in the shelter. They benefited from services that equipped them to rebuild their lives. Each year, 80 percent or more of the families were placed in permanent housing.
In January 2012, Hilliard House launched Building Neighbors, a rapid re-housing program. This program placed families in permanent housing as quickly as possible by helping them search for rental homes and providing financial assistance with move-in and short-term rental subsidies. It shortened or sometimes even eliminated shelter stays, allowing the agency to serve many more families each year. Family Housing Case Managers worked with families to establish goals for housing, then linked families to community resources to help them sustain it.
In November 2014, Hilliard House became Housing Families First. Within the organization were two signature programs. One was Building Neighbors, the rapid re-housing program that continues to successfully house families today. The other was Hilliard House, the onsite shelter. By 2016, Hilliard House was the only family homelessness program in Greater Richmond to successfully convert a transitional housing program into an emergency shelter without closing any beds. The shelter now provides a short-term stopover and housing-focused services for all families, including single-parent, two-parent, and multi-generational households.
In September 2018, Housing Families First grew again when it added a third program – Homelessness Diversion. As part of a multi-agency collaboration, Housing Families First now provides a Family Diversion Specialist for the regional Homeless Connection Line, the primary access point for families and individuals seeking homeless services in the Greater Richmond region. The Diversion Specialist helps families avoid homelessness altogether, when possible, by helping them draw on their own assets and community resources. When a family cannot be diverted from homelessness, they are connected to the available services for which they are eligible, such as shelter or rapid re-housing.
In November 2018, Housing Families First received a $2.5 million grant from the Day 1 Families Fund, created by Jeff and Mackenzie Bezos. This transformational grant has helped Housing Families First to plan improvements to its facilities and campus, significantly expand its housing programs, and promote financial sustainability. Hilliard House is the largest family shelter in the region, and has expanded to now host eleven families at any given time, with up to 40 adults and children.
In March 2020, Housing Families First partnered with the Richmond Public Schools Family Support Center to launch its fourth program, Bringing Families Home. The partnership was created to improve academic and housing outcomes by moving students and their families precariously housed in hotels or overcrowded situations into permanent homes. The program was made possible by a $500,000 Community Innovation Grant from the Robins Foundation. This program has now expanded to include partnerships with Chesterfield County and Henrico County Public Schools.
Thanks to the generous support of our community, Housing Families First continues to lead the way in helping Richmond-area families have a safe place to call home.