Holes in the Safety Net: Mainstream Systems and Homelessness

Katharine Gale and Aram Shepherd

February 2003

Research has show that any successful effort to end homelessness must include a combination of services, income supports, and housing.  However, research has also shown that the most important but under-utilized source of income, housing, and services to people who are homeless or at risk for homelessness is government-funded programs designed to meet the needs of low-income people generally (“mainstream systems”).  Mainstream systems can help both to prevent people’s homelessness and address their needs after they become homeless. It is critical to obtain data that profiles the current interaction between mainstream systems and homeless persons, because such information is a vital component in developing strategies and informing planning for the future. The Schwab Foundation commissioned this report to explore what prevents mainstream programs from serving the homeless population, summarize strategies being tested nationwide to maximize mainstream services to homeless populations (including ways that mainstream services can prevent homelessness), and identify the ways philanthropic funding could assist mainstream systems in becoming effective agents in nationwide efforts to end homelessness.

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