Toward Understanding Homelessness: The 2007 National Symposium on Homelessness Research. Homeless Families and Children. Community-Wide Prevention


To learn about effective prevention strategies, the U.S. Department of housing and Urban Development funded a study to identify communities that have implemented community wide prevention strategies with documented effectiveness and to describe and review these strategies and the supporting data (Burt, Pearson, & Montgomery, 2005). Six communities were ultimately selected, three for their primary prevention strategies for families: Hennipen County, Minnesota; Montgomery County, Maryland; and five counties in the Kansas City metropolitan area. These three communities targeted families with short-term problems that could be resolved with the resources they had available.Communities offered cash assistance to prevent eviction and pay back rent, utilities, and mortgage, as well as other in-kind assistance and counseling. Other strategies used included mediation services, which help families resolve conflict with various parties; rapid exit strategies, which get families into housing first (or exiting shelters quickly); and programs that use data and research to target families at highest risk of entering shelter for special outreach and assistance (Burt, Pearson, & Montgomery, 2005). The authors also note that there is ample evidence for housing subsidies as a prevention strategy from other studies, though not in their six-community review.

Overall, the study concluded that the most effective prevention efforts were in community wide systems having elements that affect their ability to target families well (e.g., systems for sharing data); reflect the community motivation and obligation to serve this population; maximize resources, such as agency collaboration; and demonstrate community leadership in setting future direction. Of the three communities studied, Hennepin County was found to have most of the elements and thus had the best potential to prevent homelessness and document its success.

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