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Message From PD&R Senior Leadership
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PD&R’s Upcoming Research on Combatting Homelessness Part 1

Mark Shroder, Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for Research, Evaluation, and Monitoring
Mark Shroder, Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for Research, Evaluation, and Monitoring
What use is research to policy?

It’s a fair question. Let’s look at HUD’s efforts to combat homelessness as our example. Most studies described here stemmed from explicit congressional mandates. We’ll see that neither Congress nor HUD is interested in research for its own sake. HUD’s strategic plan for the years 2010 through 2015 aims to accomplish the following:

  • Reduce the number of homeless families.
  • Reduce the number of chronically homeless individuals.
  • Reduce the number of homeless veterans to 59,000 by June 2012.
  • Provide and increase access to homelessness prevention services.
  • Increase enrollment in mental health services; substance abuse programs; veterans’ health and benefit programs; and medical services for the elderly, people with disabilities, and households that are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of becoming homeless. (pp. 19, 27)

How can HUD best accomplish these goals? We conduct research to find out. At the moment HUD has several big research efforts underway.

The Family Options Study, conducted by the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R), investigates the impact of four different ways of serving homeless families with children: project-based transitional housing, community-based rapid re-housing, permanent housing subsidy, and usual care. Abt Associates, our contractor, randomly assigned 2,307 families from emergency shelters in 12 sites to one of these options. The study’s goal is to determine which interventions best promote housing stability, family preservation, child well-being, adult well-being, and self-sufficiency for homeless families. The Interim Report describes the four options, the characteristics of the participating families, and the extent to which these families actually participated in their assigned interventions. This study marks the first rigorous test of alternative policy interventions for homeless families, and its interim results show that a single program approach is not a practical solution for most homeless families.

PD&R has also issued four small grants connected with this experiment to study barriers to preschool enrollment among homeless children; the impact of homelessness on children’s educational outcomes; and the impact of the experimental interventions on demand for child protective, mental health, and substance abuse services. Findings will be available in the latter part of 2014.

The limited data available suggest that youth aging out of foster care may be the group most at risk of future homelessness. Under PD&R’s Housing Models for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care project, which is also supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, our contractor, Mathematica, will catalog the range of relevant housing programs in place, identify model programs with documented outcomes, conduct an in-depth review of communities that are using housing vouchers to serve this population, and try to identify new opportunities to mitigate the risk of homelessness among these youth. The initial literature review summarizes the housing needs and outcomes common to young people who age out of foster care. Additional reports are due later in 2013.

The body of evidence suggests that veterans are at greater risk of homelessness than comparable nonveterans. In PD&R’s Evaluation of the Veterans Homeless Prevention Demonstration, conducted with the support of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Labor, our contractor, Silber and Associates, will report on the experience of five communities that received special funding in 2010 to carry out prevention and rapid re-housing activities for homeless and at-risk veterans, especially those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The researchers will contrast the outcomes of program participants with those of veterans ineligible for the program and with comparable nonveterans in these communities. The Interim Report, which documents implementation and summarizes characteristics of veterans served in the program’s first year, will be available on HUD USER.

In part 2 of this series, I’ll talk about four other studies to increase the effectiveness of programs to end homelessness that are also underway.