Toward Understanding Homelessness: The 2007 National Symposium on Homelessness Research. Accountability, Cost-Effectiveness, and Program Performance: Progress Since 1998.. Introduction


This paper summarizes the progress made in making homeless assistance programs more accountable to funders, consumers, and the public since the first national homelessness research symposium in 1998. Some published studies related to the costs and cost offsets of homeless assistance programs are reported, although the published literature on costs remains relatively modest. A recent spate of research on the costs of chronic homelessness has emerged, most of which has yet to make it into the published literature and some of which is not intended for an academic audience. These new studies are playing an instrumental role in local “10-year plans” to address chronic homelessness and are summarized here for the first time. The literature on cost, cost-effectiveness, and program outcomes for populations who are not experiencing chronic homelessness or who do not have a severe mental illness, has experienced even more limited growth. Relatively little progress has been made in identifying systematically the types of interventions that work for families, youth, and transitionally homeless adults. However, some new or newly documented initiatives for families, including innovations in housing stabilization and relocation programs, may soon provide evidence on the cost-effectiveness of these interventions as compared to emergency shelter and transitional housing. The growing number of cities that have implemented management information systems to track the use of homelessness services has also begun to create a more general capacity for better data and more accountability of homeless assistance programs in many communities. Progress in this area is documented here and holds promise that an infrastructure can be established for the more standardized assessment of program performance and for improving local service systems in the near future. Two jurisdictions in particular, the State of Arizona and Columbus, Ohio, have made innovative use of client and program data to measure program performance and to improvement the management of their service systems toward explicit policy objectives. Those efforts are examined as best-practice case studies here.

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