Achieving stability in permanent housing is considered by many to be the overriding goal of the system of services for people who are homeless. Providers of service may have other important objectives tailored to the particular needs of their client population and associated with helping people to become as self-reliant as possible through employment, connection to mainstream services, and addressing medical and other needs associated with disabilities. However, the aspect of self-reliance most central to ending homelessness is moving to permanent housing and not returning to a shelter, transitional housing, or the street.
In addition to being an end in itself, stable, permanent housing is often closely associated with achieving other types of self-reliance. For families with children, in particular, a place to live may make it possible for a child who has become separated from a parent to be reunited with that parent. Such family reunification can enhance the long-term well-being of children, even when the parent or parents are in recovery from behavioral health problems. Family reunification also can serve as an important motivation for the adult experiencing homelessness to try to overcome circumstances that contributed to her becoming homeless, such as unemployment, substance abuse, or failure to comply with a treatment program for mental illness.
This chapter focuses on the role of federally funded rental housing subsidies in helping parents who have become homeless achieve permanent housing. There is strong evidence that families who receive housing assistance are more likely to remain stably housed than those without such assistance (Rog et al., 2005). This is not surprising, given that most adults who become homeless have limited education and earnings potential and, therefore, limited ability to pay market rents (or buy a housing unit) even when they are employed full time.
The purpose of this chapter is to explore the type of permanent housing that homeless families need, the resources potentially available for homeless families from programs that provide housing subsidies to low-income renters, and the barriers that may prevent the use of those housing resources by people attempting to leave homelessness.
This chapter is part of an effort sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop a typology of homeless families. Part of that typology might be the type of permanent housing placement suitable for a particular family. Alternatively, the potential availability of suitable permanent housing for families with particular characteristics might be one of the indicators used in a typology of families at risk of becoming homeless or of families attempting to leave homelessness.
The chapter is organized into five sections. Section 1 provides estimates of the number of families with children who are homeless and the number who need three types of permanent housing: unsubsidized mainstream housing, subsidized mainstream rental housing, and permanent supportive housing. Section 2 describes the subsidy programs for mainstream rental housing, estimates the resources available from those programs that might be used by families attempting to leave homelessness, and discusses the barriers to the use of these programs by parents who have become homeless.
Section 3 discusses current and potential resources for permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless families with children. Section 4 evaluates whether current proposals for additional housing subsidies could create additional resources for helping families leave homelessness. Section 5 discusses implications for housing policies at the Federal, state, and local levels, implications for a typology of homeless families, and gaps in knowledge that need to be filled in order to develop a typology.