Posted by Monica Arkin & Fadumo Abdi, Self-Sufficiency Research Clearinghouse Staff
While housing programs and models have been in existence and researched for many years, most have shown only short-term residential stability for families. Rapid rehousing, for example, has been used frequently as an intervention, but there is little evidence of its efficacy in providing long-term residential stability for families. Similarly, the use of permanent housing subsidies has shown promising results in short-term evaluations, but research highlighting long-term findings is not yet available.
To affect lasting change, programs must recognize and address the multiple causes of homelessness, as well as the numerous barriers to becoming self-sufficient faced by homeless families. For some families, homelessness is episodic and can be solved with housing assistance alone. However, families may experience several types of long-term homelessness including chronic homelessness. This occurs when the family has been either homeless for over one year, or on four occasions within the three previous years, and the head of household has a disability, such as a serious mental illness, substance abuse, or developmental or physical disability that impairs self-sufficiency. Long-term homeless families, on the other hand, do not necessarily have a head of household with a disability, but have been homeless for over one year or on multiple occasions within the previous year. Long-term homelessness for these families is typically associated with multiple risk factors and cannot always be solved with housing alone. A report by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness (ICPH) on homeless families in New York City indicated common reasons that families became eligible for shelter were unemployment (over half of the families did not have a single employed household member), domestic violence (accounting for 26 percent of families who went to shelter), and family discord (accounting for 12 percent of families moving to shelter).
Recently, there has been a shift toward a more holistic approach, supplementing housing assistance with other support services. One promising method is called Supportive Housing, which provides affordable housing along with intensive wrap-around services. Supportive housing services acknowledge that housing alone may not prevent homelessness by promoting self-sufficiency and family cohesion, often providing addiction recovery, education, and employment services. Keeping Families Together, a pilot initiative between 2007 and 2010, implemented a supportive housing approach in New York City with families that had been homeless for at least a year and had been involved with the child welfare system. The pilot showed many positive outcomes: child welfare involvement declined significantly among participating families, most families had no new abuse or neglect cases after receiving supportive housing, average school attendance improved, and six children were reunited with their families from foster care.
The positive findings from Keeping Families Together led policymakers to launch a federally funded demonstration grant to test the supportive housing model on a wider scale, understand the efficacy of the model, inform strategic use of limited resources, and measure return on investment. The Partnerships to Demonstrate the Effectiveness of Supportive Housing in the Child Welfare Systems multi-site demonstration launched in 2012 as a five-year program awarding four local and one statewide supportive housing pilot sites. Data is currently being collected for the national evaluation. Long-term findings from the multisite demonstration may add important longitudinal evidence to the efficacy of supportive housing in various communities across the nation.
- American Almanac of Family Homelessness: The Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness (ICPH) published this detailed almanac in 2015 to provide an in-depth look into family homelessness in the United States. Data are organized by topic as well as state-by-state to provide a better understanding of family homelessness.
- Head Start’s Positive Impact on Homeless Families: This report consolidates research from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Head Start Association, highlighting the positive effects that Head Start program participation has had on homeless families.
- Home for Now: A Mixed-Methods Evaluation of a Short-Term Housing Support Program for Homeless Families: This mixed-methods case study evaluated the Family Home pilot program in Massachusetts, which aimed to empower families to maintain market-rate housing by providing short-term rental subsidy vouchers and support services.
- The Effectiveness of Housing Interventions and Housing and Service Interventions on Ending Family Homelessness: A Systematic Review: This systematic review compared six empirical studies evaluating various interventions for addressing family homelessness: housing first, rapid rehousing, Section 8 vouchers, housing subsidies, emergency shelter, transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing.