Linking Human Services & Housing Assistance for Homeless Families & Families At-Risk of Homelessness

Alvaro Cortes, Ph.D. et al.

Abt. Associates

April 2012

Recent reports have brought national attention to the prevalence of family homelessness and the need to coordinate across all levels of government to prevent and end family homelessness.  In June 2011, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released the 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR), the sixth in a series of annual reports on the extent and nature of homelessness nationwide. The report documents a 29 percent increase in sheltered family homelessness between 2007 and 2010.  Today, an estimated 168,000 families— 567,000 people—use an emergency shelter or a transitional housing program at some point during the year. The toll of homelessness on children living with their families is troubling.  Homelessness can adversely affect children’s mental health and behavior, school attendance and educational achievement, cognitive and motor development, and general health.

A year prior to the 2010 AHAR release, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) released the nation’s first comprehensive strategy to prevent and end homelessness, Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.  The plan sets an ambitious agenda for addressing homelessness among families and other target groups, stresses governmental collaboration at all levels, and encourages using programs targeted to homeless families and mainstream resources to help families achieve housing stability. The growing concern about family homelessness has renewed the focus among policymakers, researchers, advocates, and practitioners on using mainstream programs to prevent and end homelessness. The underlying belief is that programs explicitly for homeless people cannot be expected to do the whole job of preventing and ending family homelessness.  Indeed, ever since the start of specialized federal funding for homeless people, it has been recognized that mainstream programs such as Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provide much greater resources than targeted programs for helping families leave homelessness. 

It is within this context that the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) commissioned a study that focuses on local programs that link human services with housing supports to prevent and end family homelessness.  

The primary goals of this study are to: 

1. Identify programs nationwide that deliberately integrate human services and housing supports for homeless families and conduct site visits to understand how these programs were designed and implemented. 

2. Synthesize the information from the site visits into promising practices that facilitated the development, implementation, and sustainability of these programs.  

In addition, the study includes the development of an evaluation design document that provides a theoretical framework for rigorously evaluating programs that integrate services and housing supports for the purposes of preventing or ending family homelessness