Basic Study Design. The basic study design would be an evaluation of one or more existing best practices at the county or state level where homeless service providers are using an empirical approach to determine need for preventive services. The goal would be to determine how effectively and appropriately the system matches services to needs. Rather than impose a classification system upon communities, this project would seek to find existing or developing systems that could be assessed and tracked over time, using HMIS or other administrative data in addition to primary data.
The first step would be to either issue a call for proposals to systems implementing such programs or to fund a scan of states and communities to identify these initiatives in place. Based on this first step, one or more best practices could be selected for examination.
The major evaluation question would be to determine how effectively the system prevents future homelessness for those diverted at the front door of the system. The study would involve examining the characteristics of each family, the resources and services available and accessed, and the residential arrangements following triaging. The outcome studied would be incidence of homelessness and the length of the homeless episode for each subgroup of families having various constellations of needs and receiving specific levels of service.
The basic study design would be descriptive, tracking families over time with respect to the interventions received and changes in family stability (including both residential stability and family composition). The HMIS data could be used if program-specific elements are included.
Alternate Study Designs. In systems where more than one preventive approach is being used, a randomized study might be possible in which families receiving the same assessment ratings would randomly receive different levels of preventive service. An alternative comparative approach would involve assessing and tracking families in a comparable community where the best practice triaging approach did not exist. Data would be compared over time on homelessness rates and service use.
Sample. The sample would be families who request shelter, are at imminent risk of homelessness, and have not been homeless in the past.
Timeframe. Families would be followed for at least two years, and up to five years, following the shelter request. Data even in the first 12 months may provide an indication of the effectiveness of the triaging in preventing at least the initial onset of homelessness.