Toward Understanding Homelessness: The 2007 National Symposium on Homelessness Research. Homeless Families and Children. Need for More Information on Matching Interventions with Need


There have been no studies that compare the effectiveness of different types of housing approaches  transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, or permanent housing  for homeless families. The descriptive studies conducted to date focus on one approach and universally note the importance of affordability in housing. Almost all evaluations also describe the variability of implementation of the housing model. For example, as Burt (2006) notes, there is no standard model of transitional housing  the programs vary greatly with respect to who is served, services provided, the configuration of the housing, and the length of the programs, among other variables. Similarly, Rog and colleagues (1995a) found that even in a demonstration program that stipulated a services-enriched housing model, there was great variation among and within service sites as to the intensity of the case management provided.To date, there have been no studies examining the type of housing and service mix best suited to families with different needs. There have been no comparative studies of models, or studies that systematically varied the intensity of services. What does exist are descriptive evaluations of different housing models for specific subgroups of families, generally families with prior episodes of homelessness and other needs who may need supports. The most recent and current evaluations are described below.

The Minnesota Supportive Housing and Managed Care Pilot, a demonstration project funded by the state of Minnesota and administered by the Hearth Foundation, serves single adults and families with histories of homelessness exacerbated by other difficulties. The housing provides a range of supports to those living in the subsidized housing. A multi-pronged evaluation is being conducted by the National Center on Family Homelessness, and includes a multi-year qualitative study, a cost study, an adult outcome study, and a study on the children in the families. Preliminary data indicate dramatic increases in days spent in their own housing despite struggles with deep-seated problems (National Center on Family Homelessness, 2006, 2004b).

Similarly, in a descriptive evaluation of the Family Permanent Supportive Housing Initiative funded by the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation (Nolanet al., 2005; Nolan, Magee, & Burt, 2004), which also targets families with substantial prior homelessness (an average of four prior episodes and four years homeless), families realized substantial subsequent residential stability, having lived in their current supportive housing residences for an average of 2.2 years at the time of the evaluation.

Finally, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation Housing First Initiative was designed to rapidly house and help maintain the stability of at-risk families who did not have a prior history of homelessness or significant barriers to housing (including active substance abuse, recent domestic violence experience). The evaluation of the initiative (LaFrance, 2005) found that 88 percent of the families targeted had been successfully housed in Section8 or market rate housing, and the time it took to become housed had been significantly reduced. Year 1 outcomes indicated that only one family housed had lost the housing. This program also provided housing search assistance, move-in and other financial assistance, and home-based case management.

In sum, the evaluations to date of housing interventions all note improvements in housing stability, and often improvements in other outcomes (e.g., income; child school attendance), for the families they serve. However, without comparative information, we still lack knowledge of what level of housing and assistance is needed by whom to acquire and remain in housing.

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