Researching an End to Homelessness

Useful research reveals best practices, enhances knowledge of groups in ways that inform the delivery of services, or persuades people to support efforts to end homelessness. These goals are at the root of the Alliance’s recently updated A Research Agenda for Ending Homelessness.

As of early 2020, the nation has gathered more than a decade of solid data via HMIS and the annual Point-in-Time Count. There is a body of research on the effectiveness of Housing First, or moving people as quickly as possible into permanent housing while providing services. However, new challenges are emerging—the COVID-19 economic crisis could dramatically increase homelessness, and elder homelessness has been on the rise for the last couple of years. Meanwhile, limited system resources heighten the need to find the most cost-effective methods of moving as many people as possible into permanent housing.

The research agenda was developed in this context. It represents a collection of research questions that can be explored by government agencies and scholars invested in doing practical research that helps reduce and end homelessness. The publication was developed by the Alliance’s Research Council, a group of academics and think tank professionals from across the country, and informed by the Alliance’s Leadership Council (Continuum of Care leaders from diverse communities) and other experts.

These experts’ efforts converged on a couple of themes that included investigating 1) best practices for moving as many people as possible into permanent housing as quickly as possible when limited resources are available and 2) the service needs required for well-being and the maintenance of permanent housing.

The research agenda further focuses on specific subpopulations:

  • Older Adults. Over the last five years, the 62+ population in shelters has increased by 52 percent. Recent research predicts continued and significant growths in the group over the next decade. The research agenda urges evaluation of models for providing aging in place services and progressive case management that follows people through the aging process. Exploring age-appropriate housing situations and family mediation/connection services are also on the list.
  • Individuals. Most people who experience homelessness are individuals (70 percent). While the movement to end homeless has reduced counts for some subpopulations, the same can’t be said for individuals. Over the last decade, their numbers have only decreased by 0.2 percent. The research agenda suggests a more intensive focus on individuals—and especially those who are not chronically homeless or veterans.
  • Unsheltered. Unsheltered homelessness has been steadily rising over the last five years, mostly impacting individuals. The Research Council recommends closer examinations of the reasons people are not accessing available shelter beds, more formal evaluations of street outreach models, and a focus on those who are not chronically homeless.
  • Families. Families with children are largely sheltered with few being found in unsheltered living situations. Group numbers have been on the decline in recent years. However, far too many still experience homelessness, and the vulnerability of children is always a concern. The research agenda recommends more significant evaluation of the short-term and long-term outcomes associated with emerging practices like diversion. More considerable attention to doubled-up families, their strengths and challenges, is also suggested.