Individuals in families accounted for 37 percent of the nation’s total homeless population on a single night in January 2011.1 Public, private, and philanthropic organizations are working to identify and adopt effective responses to family homelessness. In the state of Washington, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation collaborates with a range of organizations to create a comprehensive, coordinated response to family homelessness backed by a reliable funding stream. New York City focuses on prevention and rapid re-housing to reduce homelessness among families. And in a multiyear comparative study that ends in 2014, HUD is comparing the effects of four different housing and services interventions on family homelessness.
In 2000, the Gates Foundation launched its Sound Families Initiative with $40 million to create service-supported, transitional housing for families that were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. By 2007, the initiative had funded 1,445 supportive housing units in the target areas of King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties, which together contain more than 60 percent of the state’s homeless population. Nearly 70 percent of the homeless families that received assistance through the initiative obtained permanent housing, and 48 percent improved their economic stability. The initiative also became the impetus for the Washington Families Fund (WFF), a public-private partnership created by the state legislature in 2004 to be a dependable, long-term funding stream for supportive housing programs serving homeless families with children. As of December 2010, WFF had awarded more than $17 million to programs that aided 1,286 families in 19 counties.2
Despite these efforts, family homelessness in Washington continues to grow rapidly, so the Gates Foundation is pursuing a new approach to reducing family homelessness in the state. This five-pronged strategy features early intervention to prevent at-risk families from becoming homeless, coordinated access to services for homeless families, rapid re-housing, tailored programs that address each family’s unique needs, and education and job training programs that provide homeless families with a path to economic self-sufficiency. In 2009, King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties began demonstration projects to test homelessness interventions based on this strategy. With support from WFF and the Gates Foundation, these counties are creating a comprehensive and coordinated response to family homelessness.3 Pierce County has already implemented a centralized intake and referral system, a single point of access for at-risk and homeless families that connects them to needed services.4
Prevention and rapid re-housing are key to New York City’s efforts to reduce family homelessness, at the center of which is the city’s award-winning Homebase program. Homebase offers case management services and financial assistance to the city’s vulnerable population to prevent homelessness, minimize stays in homeless shelters, and prevent repeated shelter stays. Families that are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless are referred to one of 13 neighborhood-based Homebase centers. Each family is assigned a case manager who helps avert the immediate housing crisis and also creates a long-term housing stability plan tailored to the family’s unique needs. Through community partnerships, Homebase provides financial assistance, housing mediation assistance, financial counseling, legal services, job training, and aftercare services for families leaving shelters and deemed to be at risk of reentry. More than 90 percent of the 34,100 families and individuals served by the Homebase program since its inception in 2004 did not enter the shelter system.5
A multiyear study sponsored by HUD looks to fill gaps that remain in understanding the best ways to prevent and end homelessness among families. More than 2,300 families in participating communities have been randomly assigned to one of four designated housing and services interventions: permanent housing subsidy; transitional housing with supportive services for up to 24 months; temporary rental assistance in private-market housing; or usual care, which represents assistance that people would normally access on their own from shelters. Families are tracked every three months and will complete a followup interview 18 months after being assigned an intervention. Preliminary analysis on the followup data will be available in early 2013, with longer-term results reported in 2013 and 2014.
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U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2011. “The 2011 Point-in-Time Estimates of Homelessness: Supplement to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report,” 3.
The Northwest Institute for Children and Families, University of Washington School of Social Work. 2007. “Evaluation of the Sound Families Initiative: Final Findings Summary — A Closer Look at Families’ Lives During and After Supportive Transitional Housing,” Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 1–2; “Grantmaking and Evaluation,” Building Changes (www.buildingchanges.org/our-work/grantmaking-and-evaluation). Accessed 4 April 2012.
“Washington Families Fund Launches New Strategy to Prevent and End Family Homelessness,” Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (www.gatesfoundation.org/press-releases/Pages/memorandum-of-understanding-ending-homelessness-090319.aspx). Accessed 4 April 2012.
Alice Shobe. 2011. “When It Comes to Ending Homelessness, Pierce County Isn’t Afraid to Think Big,” Building Changes (www.buildingchanges.org/news-room/heads-up/350-pierce-county-efforts-to-end-homelessness-speech). Accessed 4 April 2012.
“Homebase,” New York City Department of Homeless Services (http://www1.nyc.gov/site/dhs/prevention/homebase.page). Accessed 5 April 2012; New York City Department of Homeless Services. 2011. “Federal Stimulus Funds Help Department of Homeless Services Assist More Than 100,000 Individuals (website content has changed and this document is no longer available),” press release, 12 September.