By USICH Policy Director Katharine Gale
Last week it was my pleasure to moderate a panel at the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference on Emerging Research on Rapid Re-housing at a city, state, and national level.
While a handful of local communities—most notably Hennepin County, MN—have had rapid re-housing programs for a long time, the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing program (HPRP) and Support Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) introduced rapid re-housing as a national practice. The results have been extremely promising: rapid re-housing programs have higher rates of exits to permanent housing than transitional housing or shelter, typically at a fraction of the cost.
But with rapid re-housing being such a new practice, many people have wondered if the initial success rates would last. Would participating households retain their housing or would they lose it and return to homelessness? Many feared that rapid re-housing was setting people up for failure.
All three studies we heard about at the NAEH conference had this as their central question, and their findings were remarkably similar: the impact lasts for most households, and is comparably better than anything else we typically offer. In Philadelphia, Katrina Roebuck and Jamie Taylor tested this by looking at all the households that received rapid re-housing with HPRP and comparing them to a similar group of households using "propensity score matching.” They found that since October 2009, 13.6 percent of households that received rapid re-housing returned to the homeless system compared to 39 percent of those in the matching group, which did not receive rapid re-housing. The only predictive factor they found was having one or more previous homeless episodes, which correlated with higher rates of return.
Jason Rodriguez presented a study of more than 9,000 households that received homeless services in Georgia between 2009 and 2010. The greatest predictor for a recurrence of homelessness within two years was not having received a rapid re-housing intervention. Even when Rodriguez looked at 22 other characteristics such as household type, disability, and location of program, not receiving rapid re-housing remained the single greatest factor. Past episodes of homelessness also turned out to be significant in this study.
Tom Byrne of the National Center on Homelessness among Veterans showed similarly strong nationwide results from SSVF: a one year return rate of 10% for families and 16% for singles.
Like all research, these had some caveats. The Georgia study couldn't factor in income due to missing data in HMIS. However, in the SSVF research, starting income was not found to be strong predictor of later return. In the SSVF study, a return was based on data the VA collects, not on HMIS, so some people who use homeless services might be missed. On the whole though, the results were compelling: rapid re-housing sets households up for success!
We still have much to learn. Do longer periods of support result in gains in income or other benefits to the household? What are the most critical services to pair with the rehousing support? What impact do housing market conditions have on program success?
Jamie Taylor, who spoke about the Philadelphia results, encouraged attendees to conduct their own studies. She described local Homeless Management Information Systems as a "gold mine of information" and suggested that every community could do research similar to hers with the aid of a local University or researcher.
Stay tuned for more emerging research, or do your own and let us know what you learn!