Public Release: 

With temporary financial help, homeless 76 percent less likely to enter shelter

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Individuals in Chicago who learned funding was available when they called a homelessness prevention center were 76% less likely to enter a shelter than those who called when funding was not, a new study reports. The study suggests that temporary financial assistance programs for those facing homelessness have a notable impact. In the United States alone, over 2 million people experience homelessness each year. Traditionally, efforts to combat this dilemma have included emergency shelters or transitional housing services, though more recently, policymakers have focused on homelessness prevention in the form of temporary financial assistance, too. Despite the prevalence of temporary financial assistance programs, there is little evidence about the extent to which they actually prevent homelessness. Here, to further explore these programs' effectiveness, William Evans, James Sullivan and Melanie Wallskog evaluated the outcomes of almost 4,500 Chicago-based callers between 2010 and 2012 for whom homelessness was imminent and who called the Homelessness Prevention Call Center (HPCC). The HPCC is a centralized processing center in Chicago that screens callers for eligibility and connects eligible callers with local funding agencies; as might be expected, funding for financial assistance through these agencies varies unpredictably over time. Here, the researchers compared families that called when funds were available with those who called when they were not, ultimately finding that those in the former group with below-median incomes were 76% less likely to enter a homeless shelter within six months of their call. The per-person cost of avoiding homelessness through financial assistance was approximately $10,300, the researchers report, though it would be less than that amount with better targeting of benefits to those for whom they are most effective, the researchers say. (They note that many HPCC callers who were not referred to financial assistance found a way to avoid homelessness even though they were facing eviction.) Subgroups that appear especially likely to benefit from financial assistance include individuals (single adults), males, callers younger than 30, and those calling in the winter.


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