What’s New in Homelessness Research

This post is authored by Shasche Allen, Program and Policy Intern at the National Alliance to End Homelessness

In addition to conducting its own research and analysis, the Alliance’s Homeless Research Institute routinely tracks outside research on homelessness.  Periodically, we share information about recently published studies and reports.  Below is sampling from the last few months. 

 “Choice Matters: Housing Models that May Promote Recovery for Individuals and Families Facing Opioid Use Disorder”  

In responding to the opioid crisisthe U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published a brief focused on beneficial housing models for those impacted. Findings show a lack of programs that focused on individuals with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) who also had housing instability.  

Housing First approaches were among the best models to address the needs of people with OUD and other substance abuse disorders. The research shows that individuals served through Housing First are less likely to abuse substances and more likely to stick to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) than those receiving housing that is contingent on receiving substance abuse treatmentExperts highlighted that an individuals choice in housing model and treatmentis essential for recovery. Additionally, trust between providers, staff, and the targeted population is an important component in the success of treatment outcome.  

“Report and Recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee on Black People Experiencing Homelessness”  

In April 2018, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority launched the Ad Hoc Committee on Black People Experiencing Homelessness, charged with examining the factors contributing to racial disparities among the homeless population. The Committee conducted a series of interviews with members of communities with high concentrations of Black homelessness. It analyzed data from the Race Equity Working Group of the Homelessness Policy Research Institute. A recent report summarizes key findings and recommendations.  

Institutional racism creates barriers and increases Black people’s participation in homeless services, and therefore, it must be dismantled to solve this equity imbalance. AnBlack people served through Coordinated Entry Systems (CES) are more likely to return to homelessness compared to other races and ethnic groups. Any initiative must have continued support and funding for an extended period of time to properly address the issues. To advance racially equitable policies and programs, the Committee recommends the inclusion of black people with lived experience of homelessness in the process of design and implementation 

“Final Report: Connecticut’s Intensive Supportive Housing for Families Program” 

A federally-funded collaborative project in Connecticut effectively targeted vulnerable families who were newly involved in the child welfare system, experiencing housing instability or homelessness, and demonstrating need for services. The Supportive Housing for Families (SHF) model provides case management and housing assistance. Additionally, the program leverages federal and state funding sources to keep families in stable housing once they find it.  

final report on the project, released at the end of 2018, illuminatesignificant impact on child welfare outcomes.  Compared to a control group, families enrolled in supportive housing were more likely to be reunified and less likely to have a child removed from the home. The report emphasizes the importance of supportive housing as an intervention for child welfare-involved familiesKey strategies for making these and similar programs more effective include: pre-screening for housing needs, quickly getting families into housing, and ensuring constant flow of housing vouchers. 

“Evaluation of the Homeless Multidisciplinary Street Team for the City of Santa Monica”  

Santa Monica created the Homeless Multidisciplinary Street Team (HMST) to address the needs of the homeless population. The team is composed of specialists including a full-time program manager, medical doctor, a psychiatrist, a physician’s assistant, and peer support specialist who locate and engage individuals with the highest cost needs.  The goal of the program is to improve individual outcomes while reducing costs for other public systems like healthcare and law enforcement 

 An evaluation performed by the RAND team used a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to measure the success of the HMST. Interviews with stakeholders reveal the HMST is viewed as having a valuable impact on the homeless services system. However, HMST has made little leeway in helping clients transition into step-down care so that the program can help new clients. Despite that, the intervention of HMST decreased public spending in Santa Monica, resulting in estimated savings between $103,000 and $259,000 

“Understanding Encampments of People Experiencing Homelessness and Community Responses: Emerging Evidence as of Late 2018” 

This literature review, part of a research collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), offers a better understanding of encampments and how communities are responding to them. In some parts of the country, high barrier shelters prevent people from filling available beds.  Potential consumers turn to encampments where they may feel a better sense of freedom, community, and safety. Community reactions to encampments range from drastic police sweeps (clearing out residents) to formal sanctions  

Some cities are adopting San Francisco’s Navigation Centers model to assist people living in encampments by removing barriers to accessing services and housingEvidence shows that clearing out encampments without follow-up support services does nothing to solve the actual problem but instead creates unnecessary trauma for inhabitants. More research on the demographic characteristics of people living in encampments would better inform policy and program initiatives.  

“Solving Street Homelessness in Louisville, KY: Improving the Climate of Care for Individuals Experiencing Homelessness”  

Similar to other cities, Louisville experienced an influx of people experiencing homelessness in recent years.  This report proactively aims to understand the problem and find solutions.  Significant challenges include a lack of affordable housing, and repeated reports that individuals didn’t feel welcome nor safe in the city’s emergency shelters. 

 The School of Public Health at Louisville, KY offers some recommendations to solve unsheltered homelessness in LouisvilleIncreasing the availability of affordable housing is crucial.  The city needs a more coordinated approach among the CoC and mainstream agencies to properly execute the Housing First Model. Another important recommendation is the push towards more low-barrier shelterswelcoming as many people as possible. The eightfold recommendation plan proposes some major takeaways that may be applicable outside Louisville.