The Family Options Study
 

Overview

The Family Options Study is a multi-site random assignment experiment designed to study the impact of various housing and services interventions for homeless families. HUD launched the Family Options Study in 2008 in response to Congressional direction and with the goal of learning more about the effects of different housing and services interventions for homeless families.  

Between September 2010 and January 2012, a total of 2,282 families (including over 5,000 children) were enrolled into the study from emergency shelters across twelve communities nationwide and were randomly assigned to one of four interventions: 1) subsidy-only – defined as a permanent housing subsidy with no supportive services attached, typically delivered in the form of a Housing Choice Voucher (HCV); 2) project-based transitional housing – defined as temporary housing for up to 24 months with an intensive package of supportive services offered on-site; 3) community-based rapid re-housing – defined as temporary rental assistance, potentially renewable for up to 18 months with limited, housing-focused services; or 4) usual care –  defined as any housing or services that a family accesses in the absence of immediate referral to the other interventions.

Families were followed for three years following random assignment, with extensive surveys of families conducted at baseline and again approximately 20 and 37 months after random assignment. In addition to collecting data about the well-being of families and children at different points in time following random assignment, extensive cost data on each of the interventions studied was also collected, in order to calculate the fiscal costs of achieving the outcomes that were documented. While the primary outcome of interest is housing stability, and, in particular, preventing families from returning to homelessness, additional outcome domains of interest include family preservation, adult well-being, child well-being, and self-sufficiency. The detailed research design can be found on the research design tab of this page.

An interim report, released in March 2013, describes the study’s design and implementation and characteristics of the study families.  The key findings in the interim report relate to families’ enrollment in the different interventions being studied — both the barriers presented by stringent eligibility criteria of programs that often screen households out of assistance, and the choices made by households to reject the intervention offered. The short-term outcomes report was released in July 2015, documenting the outcomes of families and the relative costs of the interventions at the 20-month follow-up period. The long-term outcomes report, was released in October 2016, documenting the outcomes of families and the relative costs of the interventions 37 months after random assignment.

The Family Options Study was an important research effort that yielded significant results. At both the 20-month and 37-month points of observation, significant positive impacts were observed in both the adults and the children of the families offered a voucher. It is unclear whether these positive impacts extend over a much longer follow-up period, which has particular relevance given the number of children in the sample, and thus HUD is interested in potentially pursuing a longer-term follow-up with study families. In advance of pursuing this effort, HUD funded a tracking effort to determine if the contact information for the study sample was still viable. The long-term tracking report, to be released in spring 2020, documents the results of a 6-month effort to assess the quality of the study sample contact information and to determine if a follow up effort might yield a sufficient response rate to justify a longer-term follow up study.

All products generated from this study will be housed on this project page. For additional information, please contact Anne Fletcher at anne.l.fletcher@hud.gov.

Data

Summary Statistics Tables

Summary statistic tables are located in the appendices of both the Short-term Outcomes report and the Long Term Outcomes report. No additional summary statistics table have been produced.

Public Use File Microdata

The Public Use File Microdata (PUF) are available to all users for limited research and analysis. To minimize disclosure risk, the PUF have been stripped of all direct identifiers and indirect identifiers have been either removed or masked.

Restricted Use File Microdata

A Restricted Use File (RAF) microdata version of the Family Options Study data is available to qualified researchers in government, academic, non-profit, and not-for-profit organizations. The RAF includes greater geographic detail as well as details about household members. To use the RAF, researchers must propose to answer a relevant research question(s) that can be only be answered by restricted use FOS data.

The RAF is not directly available from HUD. There are two ways to apply for access to the RAF. The first way is through “Competition to Conduct Analysis of HUD’s Randomized Evaluation Data--Moving to Opportunity and Family Options Studies” sponsored by HUD and the Census Bureau. More information is available at: https://www.census.gov/about/adrm/linkage/updates/2019-12-request-for-proposals.html. Researchers will be required to access the RAF through the Federal Statistical Research Data Center. The second way to apply for access to the RAF is to submit an application to the Census Bureau’s Center for Economic Studies. Researchers will be required to access the data through the Federal Statistical Research Data Center. For more information on submitting an application, see: (https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/ces/data/restricted-use-data/apply-for-access.html). All proposals submitted to the Census Bureau’s Center for Economic Studies must be approved by HUD.

Research Design

The objective of the Family Options Study is to provide research evidence to help federal policymakers, community planners, and local practitioners make sound decisions about the best ways to address family homelessness. The study is conducted as a rigorous, multi-site experiment, comparing four combinations of housing and service interventions for homeless families who have been in emergency shelters for at least seven days. The fundamental research question guiding the analysis seeks to understand if priority access to a particular intervention yields differences in outcomes for homeless families over the short-term (20 months after random assignment) and/or the long-term (37 months after random assignment). The Data Collection and Analysis Plan provides the blueprint for the study implementation, including: 1) an overview of the evaluation design, including the interventions studied, research questions, outcome measures, and random assignment process; 2) the follow-up survey and administrative data sources used and data collection procedures; and 3) the analysis plan, including the hypotheses to be tested, impact estimation model, strategy for addressing multiple comparisons, subgroup analysis, addressing no-shows and crossovers, and sample sizes and statistical power.

Download the Data Collection and Analysis Plan

Other Publications


Scholarly Publications

The Family Options Study provides a unique platform to generate research findings related to family homelessness. Many scholarly publications, research briefs, and extended analyses have been generated based on the Family Options Study.


Cutuli, J. J., & Herbers, J. E., (2018). Housing interventions and the chronic and acute risks of family homelessness:
        Experimental evidence for education. Child Development, 90(5), 1664-1683.
        https://srcd.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cdev.13041

This study considers risk associated with family homelessness for school functioning and experimental evidence on the effects of different housing interventions over time. Students in homeless families (N = 172; Mage = 7.31; SD = 4.15) were randomized to housing interventions that focus on acute risks (community-based rapid rehousing), chronic risks (permanent subsidy), or usual care (UC). A matched group of low-income, housed students served as an additional reference for effects on attendance, school mobility, and reading and math achievement across 4 years. Findings partially support the chronic-risk hypothesis that family homelessness interferes with achievement through its relation to deep poverty. Children randomly assigned to UC perform as well or better than children assigned to housing interventions in this municipality.

 

Gubits, D., Shinn, M., Wood, M., Brown, S., Dastrup, S. R., & Bell, S. H. (2018). What interventions work best for
        families who experience homelessness? Impact estimates from the Family Options Study. Journal of Policy
        Analysis and Management 37
, 835-866. DOI: 10.1002/pam.22071
        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6168747/

What housing and service interventions work best to reduce homelessness for families in the U.S.? The Family Options Study randomly assigned 2,282 families recruited in homeless shelters across 12 sites to priority access to one of three active interventions or to usual care in their communities. The interventions were long-term rent subsidies, short-term rent subsidies, and transitional housing in supervised programs with intensive psychosocial services. In two waves of follow-up data collected 20 and 37 months later, priority access to long-term rent subsidies reduced homelessness and food insecurity and improved other aspects of adult and child well-being relative to usual care, at a cost 9 percent higher. The other interventions had little effect. The study provides support for the view that homelessness for most families is an economic problem that long-term rent subsidies resolve and does not support the view that families must address psychosocial problems to succeed in housing. It has implications for focusing government resources on this important social problem.

 

Glendening, Z., McCauley, E., Shinn, M., & Brown, S.R. (2018). Long-term housing subsidies and SSI/SSDI
        income: Creating health-promoting contexts for families experiencing housing instability with disabilities.
        Disability and Health Journal, 11, 214-220 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28851508

BACKGROUND: Though disability and housing instability are discussed separately in public health literature, few studies address families at their intersection. As a result, little is known about families who experience both homelessness and disability, how many receive disability benefits like SSI and SSDI, or the influence of those benefits on health-promoting outcomes like housing stability and self-sufficiency. Moreover, no previous research compares the ability of different housing and service interventions to increase disability benefit access.

OBJECTIVE: We examine relationships between disabilities and SSI/SSDI income reported when families enter emergency shelters and later health-promoting outcomes (housing stability and self-sufficiency) and how housing interventions affect SSI/SSDI receipt.

METHODS: Families in the (name removed) Study (N = 1857) were interviewed in emergency shelters, randomly offered of one of three housing interventions or usual care (i.e., no immediate referral to any intervention beyond shelter), and re-interviewed 20 months later.

RESULTS: A third of families reported a disability at shelter entry. SSI/SSDI coverage of these families increased nearly 10% points over 20 months but never exceeded 40%. Disabilities predicted greater housing instability, food insecurity, and economic stress and less work and income. Among families reporting disabilities, SSI/SSDI receipt predicted fewer returns to emergency shelter, and more income despite less work. Offers of long-term housing subsidies increased SSI/SSDI receipt.

CONCLUSIONS: Many families experiencing homelessness have disabilities; those receiving SSI/SSDI benefits have better housing and income outcomes. Providing families experiencing homelessness with long-term housing subsidies and SSI/SSDI could improve public health.

 

Shinn, M., Brown, S. R., & Gubits, D. (2017). Can housing and service interventions reduce family separations for
        families who experience homelessness? American Journal of Community Psychology, 60, 79-90. DOI:
        10.1002/ajcp.12111 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28012168

Family break-up is common in families experiencing homelessness. This paper examines the extent of separations of children from parents and of partners from each other and whether housing and service interventions reduced separations and their precursors among 1,857 families across 12 sites who participated in the Family Options Study. Families in shelters were randomized to offers of one of three interventions: permanent housing subsidies that reduce expenditures for rent to 30% of families' income, temporary rapid re-housing subsidies with some services directed at housing and employment, and transitional housing in supervised facilities with extensive psychosocial services. Each group was compared to usual care families who were eligible for that intervention but received no special offer. Twenty months later, permanent housing subsidies almost halved rates of child separation and more than halved rates of foster care placements; the other interventions did not affect separations significantly. Predictors of separation were primarily homelessness and drug abuse (all comparisons), and alcohol dependence (one comparison). Although housing subsidies reduced homelessness, alcohol dependence, intimate partner violence, and economic stressors, the last three variables had no association with child separations in the subsidy comparison; thus subsidies had indirect effects via reductions in homelessness. No intervention reduced partner separations.


Solari, C. D., & Khadduri, J., (2017). Family Options Study: How homeless families use housing choice vouchers. Cityscape, 19(3), 387-412.

This article uses nonexperimental analysis from the Family Options Study, a rigorously designed experimental study of interventions for families experiencing homelessness, to describe the ways in which families who had spent at least 7 days in emergency shelters used long-term rent assistance provided through the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program. A long-term rent subsidy was one of the study’s interventions, with some families randomly assigned to receive priority access to a housing voucher. A few other families in the study also used HCV assistance at some point during the 20-month period following their stay in an emergency shelter despite not receiving priority access to vouchers. This article shows that families given priority access to voucher subsidies leased up at very high rates, 82 percent. The only household characteristics associated with lower rates of lease up were recent, self-reported substance abuse and an adult family member with a felony conviction. Even families with those characteristics usually were able to use vouchers. For families without priority access to a voucher, those with a prior history of doubling up were more likely to gain access to and use a voucher, perhaps because they were already on waiting lists at the time of their shelter stay. Local policies of the homeless services system and public housing agencies appear to have affected patterns of voucher use, but no consistent patterns were related to housing market conditions.

 

Gubits, D., McCall, T., & Wood, M., (2017). Family Options Study: Effects on family living situation. Cityscape, 19(3), 357-386. https://www.huduser.gov/portal/periodicals/cityscpe/vol19num3/article20.html

This article uses data from the Family Options Study to address several questions about family living situations after a stay in emergency shelter. (1) What are the families’ living situations, month by month, during the first 32 months after random assignment to one of the study’s interventions? (2) What are the relative impacts of the interventions on two particular living situations—living in the family’s own place and doubled up with a relative or friend? (3) What are the flows out of the status of living in the family’s own place over time and what are the impacts of the interventions on these flows?

 

Bush, H. & Shinn, M. (2017). Families’ experience of doubling up after homelessness. Cityscape, 19(3), 331-356.
        NIHMSID 927086. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5760191/

This study examined experiences of doubling up among families after episodes of homelessness. Doubling up refers to two or more adults or families residing in the same housing unit, which has been an increasing trend in the United States in recent decades. Within the past 14 years, the number of households containing more than one family, related or unrelated, has more than tripled. Although doubling up is increasingly common among families at all income levels, this study seeks to understand the experiences of doubling up among families who have been homeless. Through qualitative interviews with caregivers of 29 families, we analyzed advantages and disadvantages of doubling up with the caregiver’s parent, other family, and nonfamily. Experiences were rated on a four-point scale—(1) mostly negative, (2) negative mixed, (3) positive mixed, and (4) mostly positive—and coded for various positive and negative themes. Overall, we found that doubling up was a generally negative experience for families in our sample, regardless of their relationship to their hosts. Common themes included negative effects on children, undesirable environments, interpersonal tension, and feelings of impermanence and instability. For formerly sheltered families in this study, doubling up after shelter did not resolve their period of housing instability and may be only another stop in an ongoing cycle of homelessness.

 

Glendening, Z., & Shinn, M. (2017) Risk models for returns to housing instability among families experiencing
        homelessness. Cityscape, 19(3), 309-330. NIHMSID 927087.
        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5760192/

The enrollment phase of the Family Options Study provides information about the mismatch of the homeless service system and the needs and desires of families experiencing homelessness in 12 communities. One-fourth (25.8 percent) of the 2,490 families screened for the study after shelter stays of a week were deemed ineligible for one or more of the interventions at initial screening, with ineligibility highest for those screened for transitional housing programs (28.9 percent) and lower for short- and long-term rental subsidies (9.2 and 4.1 percent). Families given priority offers of housing and service interventions for which they appeared eligible faced additional screening by programs and made decisions about whether to enroll. Considering all stages of this process, families were least likely to be eligible for and subsequently choose to enroll (within 9 months) in transitional housing programs (32.5 percent of those initially screened) and most likely to be eligible for and subsequently lease up with long-term subsidies (73.4 percent) with short-term subsidies in between (51.0 percent). Homeless system interventions systematically screen out families with housing and employment barriers, despite the presumption that these families are the families who need interventions in order to achieve housing and economic stability.

 

Shinn, M., Brown, S. R., Spellman, B. E., Wood, M. L., Gubits, D., & Khadduri, J. (2017). Mismatch between
        homeless families and the homelessness service system. Cityscape, 19(3), 293-307. NIHMSID 927088.
        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5760190/

The enrollment phase of the Family Options Study provides information about the mismatch of the homeless service system and the needs and desires of families experiencing homelessness in 12 communities. One-fourth (25.8 percent) of the 2,490 families screened for the study after shelter stays of a week were deemed ineligible for one or more of the interventions at initial screening, with ineligibility highest for those screened for transitional housing programs (28.9 percent) and lower for short- and long-term rental subsidies (9.2 and 4.1 percent). Families given priority offers of housing and service interventions for which they appeared eligible faced additional screening by programs and made decisions about whether to enroll. Considering all stages of this process, families were least likely to be eligible for and subsequently choose to enroll (within 9 months) in transitional housing programs (32.5 percent of those initially screened) and most likely to be eligible for and subsequently lease up with long-term subsidies (73.4 percent) with short-term subsidies in between (51.0 percent). Homeless system interventions systematically screen out families with housing and employment barriers, despite the presumption that these families are the families who need interventions in order to achieve housing and economic stability.

 

Wood, M., & Fletcher, A., (2017). Lessons for conducting experimental evaluations in complex field studies: Family Options Study. Cityscape, 19(3), 271-292. https://www.huduser.gov/portal/periodicals/cityscpe/vol19num3/article16.html

This article examines lessons learned from the implementation of the Family Options Study, a multisite randomized controlled trial designed to measure the relative impacts of various housing and services interventions for homeless families. The study team addressed several challenges in executing the experimental design adopted for the study, including identifying interventions for study, selecting study sites, addressing ethical considerations, and implementing random assignment. The article highlights four key lessons that emerged as the study team addressed these challenges that can inform future experimental research. First, the study illustrates the importance of flexibility in research design when studying existing assistance models rather than testing a demonstration program in which the interventions are uniformly executed. Second, site selection can be a lengthy iterative process that requires creativity and adaptations to local constraints. Third, the Family Option Study shows that ethical considerations can and must drive experimental research design decisions, particularly when studying programs that serve vulnerable programs. Finally, the study design demonstrates that participant intake and random assignment can be adjusted to account for varying program rules, while still allowing for rigorous impact analysis.

 

Huston, A. C., (2017). U.S. commentary: Effects of housing subsidies on the well-being of children and their families in the Family Options Study. Cityscape, 19(3), 265-270. https://www.huduser.gov/portal/periodicals/cityscpe/vol19num3/article15.html

Homelessness and housing instability are bad for children and families—a fact that is obvious to any reasonable individual but is also well documented by social science research. Children who are homeless or who move often have poorer school achievement and more behavioral problems than comparably poor children who live in more stable housing situations (Buckner, 2008; Mehana and Reynolds, 2004). Public policy solutions for these problems are less obvious, but the Family Options Study provides some clear guidance about what does and does not work. In the Family Options Study (Gubits et al., 2016), the effects of four types of policy interventions on homeless families with children were compared in a random assignment design. Families were followed for 3 years after the interventions were introduced.

 

Fowler, P. J., (2017). U.S. commentary: Implications from the Family Options Study for homeless and child welfare services. Cityscape, 19(3), 255-264. https://openscholarship.wustl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1056&context=brown_facpubs

The Family Options Study provides an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the troubling link between family homelessness and child maltreatment. The rigorous design uses multiple methods to probe the impact of housing interventions on family preservation and reunification and the underlying mechanisms. Results show that ending homelessness keeps families together; however, once separated, families continue to struggle to reunify with children. Permanent housing subsidies represent a more efficient approach to promoting family stability among homeless families compared with temporary housing with supportive services. Results introduce a new phase of family homeless research, practice, and policy; further investigation must consider broad scale approaches to keep families affordably housed in inclusive communities that protect child safety and well-being.

 

Allen, N. E., (2017). U.S. commentary: Insights from the Family Options Study regarding housing and intimate partner violence. Cityscape, 19(3), 245-254. https://www.huduser.gov/portal/periodicals/cityscpe/vol19num3/article13.html

The Family Options Study examines four approaches to addressing homelessness: permanent housing subsidy, rapid re-housing, transitional housing, and usual care (Gubits et al., 2016). Importantly, the study finds that, at a 3-year follow-up, a smaller percentage of permanent housing subsidy recipients reported experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV) in the past 6 months when compared with those receiving usual care; these differences were not observed for the transitional housing or rapid re-housing groups. Further, being a survivor of IPV at the baseline assessment is positively correlated with leaving a partner at 37 months, and survivors with permanent housing subsidies were more likely to separate from partners than those in usual care. Finally, families with more complex psychosocial needs compared with those families with fewer needs may have a greater reduction in the experience of IPV when in transitional housing. Although the Family Options Study offers important findings to inform housing policy for survivors of IPV, the study also points to important avenues for future research. These avenues include (1) measurement issues in the assessment of IPV, (2) the complexity of examining separation from one’s partner as a desirable outcome, and (3) the importance of survivor-centered practice when considering housing policy for survivors of IPV.

 

Waxman, E., (2017). U.S. commentary: The Family Options Study and food insecurity. Cityscape, 19(3), 235-244. https://www.huduser.gov/portal/periodicals/cityscpe/vol19num3/article12.html

Housing and food insecurity often coexist in the same household and reflect tradeoffs between basic needs that families grapple with when facing limited and often unstable income (Cutts et al., 2011; Heflin, 2006; Joyce et al., 2012). Unfortunately, research often fails to examine the intersection of material hardships (Ziliak, 2015) or fully explore how strategies intended to address one domain may influence outcomes in another. The Family Options Study breaks new ground, not only because of the insights it provides into strategies for improving family housing outcomes, but also because it illuminates the role of housing subsidies in reducing other material hardships like food insecurity (Gubits et al., 2016). For policymakers, practitioners, and researchers interested in strengthening low-income communities, the Family Options Study is a powerful reminder of the importance of rigorously evaluating interventions with an eye firmly focused on how they contribute to overall family well-being.

 

Curtis, M. A., (2017). U.S. commentary: The Family Options Study and family well-being outcomes. Cityscape,
        19(3)
, 229-234. https://www.huduser.gov/portal/periodicals/cityscpe/vol19num3/article11.html

The Family Options Study, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-sponsored longitudinal randomized study evaluating homeless service interventions for families with children, is the focus of this symposium. This study enrolled participant families between 2010 and 2012 and followed them for at least 3 years. Nearly 2,300 families experiencing homelessness, in 12 sites across the nation, were assigned to one of four conditions after spending 7 or more nights in a homeless shelter. The 12 participating sites recruited for the study varied across size, geography, and housing markets to capture variation in conditions associated with homelessness. Although sites were not randomly selected, at study entrance, Family Options Study participants shared characteristics similar to families experiencing homelessness across the nation (Gubits et al., 2016).

 

Nelson, G., (2017). International commentary: Eliminating family homelessness and the Family Options Study.
        Cityscape, 19(3), 219-228. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26328361?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

For this commentary, I reviewed the report on the 3-year outcomes of the Family Options Study (Gubits et al., 2016a, 2016b) and two articles (Shinn, Brown, and Gubits, 2016; Shinn et al., 2016) published on this study. In this commentary, I discuss the interventions and their underlying theories of change, the target group, methodological issues, the findings, and the policy implications of the study. The Family Options Study is an evaluation of different program options for families experiencing homelessness. The study was conducted in 12 communities, enrolled 2,282 participants, and used a randomized controlled trial (RCT) design. This study is, by far, the largest, most rigorous comparative evaluation of interventions for homeless families ever conducted anywhere. As such, it has important policy implications for how homeless families are best served.

 

Johnson, G., & Watson, J., (2017). International commentary: The implications of the Family Options Study for
        family homelessness in Australia. Cityscape, 19(3), 211-218.
        https://www.huduser.gov/portal/periodicals/cityscpe/vol19num3/article9.html

Prior to the 1980s, family homelessness was rare in Australia. Since then, homelessness has become part of the lives of many families, but we know little about what interventions work. In this article, we assess the extent of family homelessness in Australia and then describe the main program responses. We then turn our attention to the Family Options Study, a randomized controlled trial that examines the impact of three interventions on 2,000 homeless American families in 12 locations during a 3-year period. We conclude that, despite substantial social and economic differences between the United States and Australia, similarities in key aspects of program design mean that results from the Family Options Study are important for Australian policymakers to consider. Indeed, the study raises challenging questions as to whether the current emphasis in Australia on transitional approaches is the most effective way of tackling family homelessness.

 

O’Sullivan, E. (2017). International commentary: Family Options Study observations from the periphery of Europe.
        Cityscape, 19(3), 203-210. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26328359?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

From a European perspective—and, more specifically, an Irish perspective—the Family Options Study offers crucial insights into how policy responses to family homelessness are theoretically framed and into the efficacy of the actual services constructed to meet the perceived needs of homeless families. The study identifies two dominant ways of thinking about family homelessness. The first sees family homelessness as resulting from income insufficiency, resulting in an inability to successfully compete in tight rental housing markets; the second sees family homelessness as a consequence of both income insufficiency and a range of other personal dysfunctions. The appropriate response to preventing and ending family homelessness, if family homelessness is understood as resulting from income insufficiency, is to provide financial subsidies (short- or long-term subsidies), to bridge the gap between family income and market housing costs, or subsidized social housing. The appropriate response, if homelessness and low incomes are both seen as resulting from individual dysfunctions, is to remedy those dysfunctions prior to the provision of a housing subsidy. The perceived wisdom is that successful treatment is best provided in supervised transitional congregate settings that address these dysfunctions and adequately prepare families for independent living through a series of therapeutic interventions.

 

Mayberry, L.S. (2016). The hidden work of exiting homelessness: Challenges of housing service use and strategies
        of service recipients. Journal of Community Psychology, 44, 293–310.
        https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jcop.21765

This study explored the experiences of parents attempting to retain housing after a shelter stay. A total of 80 parents participated in semi structured face-to-face interviews approximately 6 months after being recruited from shelters located in 4 states across the United States. Qualitative analyses identified common challenges of service use, strategies of service recipients, and characteristics of positive and negative service experiences. Challenges of service use included Catch-22s resulting from incongruity between service policies and procedures and participants’ contexts and requirements of other services, confusion and uncertainty resulting from absent or insufficient communication about services, and long waitlists. Participants demonstrated persistence and determination, networked with service providers, and activated formal resources. Positive service experiences were tailored to families’ needs and marked by clear and consistent communication between providers and with service recipients. Findings suggest effective health communication tactics should be applied to housing services. Providers should collaborate to ensure service attainment does not impede other pathways to stability.

 

Shinn, M., Brown, S. R., Wood, M., & Gubits, D. (2016) Housing and service interventions for families
        experiencing homelessness in the United States: An experimental evaluation. European Journal of
        Homelessness, 10 (1)
, 13-30. https://www.feantsaresearch.org/download/10-1_article_18262665053505208916.pdf

This paper examines the housing and service interventions that work best to end family homelessness and to promote housing stability, adult and child well-being, family preservation and self-sufficiency in the United States. It is based on the short-term (20-month) results of the Family Options Study, which recruited 2,282 families in emergency homeless shelters across 12 sites and randomized them to one of three housing and service interventions or to usual care in their communities. The approaches test both theoretical propositions about the nature of family homelessness and practical efforts to end it. Permanent housing subsidies were most successful at ending homelessness and promoting housing stability and had radiating impacts on all the other domains, suggesting that homelessness among families in the United States is centrally a problem of housing affordability. Project-based transitional housing, which attempts to address families’ psychosocial needs in supervised settings, and temporary ‘rapid re-housing’ subsidies had little effect.

 

Shinn, M., Gibbons-Benton, J., & Brown, S. R. (2015). Poverty, homelessness, and family break-up. Child
        Welfare, 94
(1), 105-122. NIHMSID 927084. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5760188/

This study examines the extent and correlates of family separations in families experiencing homelessness. Of 2,307 parents recruited in family shelters across 12 sites, a tenth were separated from partners and a quarter from one or more children. Additional separations before and after shelter entry and reasons, from parents’ perspectives, were documented in qualitative interviews with a subsample of 80 parents. Separations were associated with economic hardship, shelter conditions, and family characteristics.

 

Fisher, B. W., Mayberry, L. S., Shinn, M., & Khadduri, J. (2014). Leaving homelessness behind: Housing
        decisions among families exiting shelter. Housing Policy Debate, 24(2), 364-386.
        DOI:10.1080/10511482.2013.852603; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4170684/

Because homelessness assistance programs are designed to help families, it is important for policymakers and practitioners to understand how families experiencing homelessness make housing decisions, particularly when they decide not to use available services. This study explores those decisions using in-depth qualitative interviews with 80 families recruited in shelters across four sites approximately six months after they were assigned to one of four conditions (permanent housing subsidies, project-based transitional housing, community-based rapid re-housing, and usual care). Familiar neighborhoods near children’s schools, transportation, family and friends, and stability were important to families across conditions. Program restrictions on eligibility constrained family choices. Subsidized housing was the most desired intervention and families leased up at higher rates than in other studies of poor families. Respondents were least comfortable in and most likely to leave transitional housing. Uncertainty associated with community-based rapid re-housing generated considerable anxiety. Across interventions, many families had to make unhappy compromises, often leading to further moves. Policy recommendations are offered.

 

Mayberry, L. S., Shinn, M., Benton, J. G., & Wise, J. (2014). Families experiencing housing instability: The effects
        of housing programs on family routines and rituals. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 84(1), 95-109.
        DOI: 10.1037/h0098946; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4089513/

Maintenance of family processes can protect parents, children, and families from the detrimental effects of extreme stressors, such as homelessness. When families cannot maintain routines and rituals, the stressors of poverty and homelessness can be compounded for both caregivers and children. However, characteristics of living situations common among families experiencing homelessness present barriers to the maintenance of family routines and rituals. We analyzed 80 in-depth interviews with parents who were experiencing or had recently experienced an instance of homelessness. We compared their assessments of challenges to family schedules, routines, and rituals across various living situations, including shelter, transitional housing programs, doubled up (i.e. living temporarily with family/friend), and independent housing. Rules common across shelters and transitional housing programs impeded family processes, and parents felt surveilled and threatened with child protective service involvement in these settings. In doubled up living situations, parents reported adapting their routines to those of the household and having parenting interrupted by opinions of friends and family members. Families used several strategies to maintain family rituals and routines in these living situations and ensure consistency and stability for their children during an otherwise unstable time.

 

Additional HUD report

Walton, D., Wood, M., Rodriguez, J., Khdduri, J., Gubits, D., Dunton, L., & Shinn, M. (2018). Understanding rapid
        re-housing: Supplemental analysis of data from the Family Options Study
. Washington, D.C.: U.S.
        Department of Housing and Urban Development.
        https://www.huduser.gov/portal/sites/default/files/pdf/Supplemental-Analysis-Rapid-Re-housing.pdf

Rapid re-housing programs provide temporary assistance to individuals and families who experience homelessness so they may quickly move into permanent housing and stabilize there (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2014). Since 2009, the number of communities in the United States using rapid re-housing (RRH) programs to address homelessness has grown from just a few to several hundred. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is sponsoring the Understanding Rapid Re-housing Study to address important questions about RRH assistance. To carry out the study, Abt Associates is synthesizing the current body of research available on RRH, conducting new analysis of existing data, and collecting new data to analyze current RRH program designs and households’ experiences using RRH assistance. This paper is the deliverable for Task 6 of the Understanding Rapid Re-housing Study. The paper presents new analysis about short-term rent subsidies and associated services provided by rapid re-housing programs using data collected for the Family Options Study.

 

Research Briefs

Glendening, Z., & Shinn, M. (2018). Predicting repeated and persistent family homelessness: Do families
        characteristics and experiences matter?
Homeless Families Research Brief, OPRE Report No.2018-104.
        https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/opre_persistent_homelesss_brief_10_9_18_508_compliant.pdf

The Homeless Families Research Briefs project, conducted by Abt Associates, is producing a series of research briefs on issues related to the well-being and economic self-sufficiency of families and children experiencing homelessness. Using data collected from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Family Options Study, these briefs build on the data and analysis already being conducted for HUD to answer additional questions of interest to HHS.

 

Shinn, M., Gubits, D., & Dunton, L. (2018). Behavioral health improvements over time among adults in families
        experiencing homelessness
. Homeless Families Research Brief, OPRE Report No. 2018-61.
        https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/opre_behavioral_health_brief_09_06_2018_508.pdf

The Homeless Families Research Briefs project, conducted by Abt Associates, is producing a series of research briefs on issues related to the well-being and economic self-sufficiency of families and children experiencing homelessness. Using data collected from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Family Options Study, these briefs build on the data and analysis already being conducted for HUD to answer additional questions of interest to HHS.

 

Walton, D., Dastrup, S., Khadduri, J., (2018). Employment of families experiencing homelessness. Homeless
        Families Research Brief, OPRE Report No. 2018-56.
        https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/opre_employment_brief_06_15_2018_508.pdf

The Homeless Families Research Briefs project, conducted by Abt Associates, is producing a series of research briefs on issues related to the well-being and economic self-sufficiency of families and children experiencing homelessness. Using data collected from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Family Options Study, these briefs build on the data and analysis already being conducted for HUD to answer additional questions of interest to HHS.

 

Walton, D., Wood, M., & Dunton, L., (2018). Child separation among families experiencing homelessness. Homeless
        Families Research Brief, OPRE Report No. 2018-39.
        https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/opre_child_separation_brief_03_22_2018_508_2.pdf

The Homeless Families Research Briefs project, conducted by Abt Associates, is producing a series of research briefs on issues related to the well-being and economic self-sufficiency of families and children experiencing homelessness. Using data collected from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Family Options Study, these briefs build on the data and analysis already being conducted for HUD to answer additional questions of interest to HHS.

 

Khadduri, J., Walton, D., López, M., & Burt, M. R., (2017). Hispanic families experiencing homelessness. Homeless
        Families Research Brief, OPRE Report No. 2017-78.
         https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/opre_hispanic_families_snapshot_04_508.pdf

This research snapshot describes the experiences of a group of 381 Hispanic families after experiencing homelessness. The snapshot: examines the resilience of Hispanic families 20 months after their stay in a homeless shelter; describes regional variations in families’ resiliency; and discusses how these regional differences mirror or differ from the differences of non-Hispanic families. This is the sixth publication in a series that draws on data collected as part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Family Options Study. The Family Options Study collected data on 2,282 homeless families with children in twelve communities across the country.

 

Khadduri, J., Burt, M. R., & Walton, D., (2017). Patterns of benefit receipt among families who experience
        homelessness
. Homeless Families Research Brief, OPRE Report No. 2017-42.
        https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/opre_patterns_of_benefit_family_07_21_2017_508_compliant.pdf

What are the patterns of benefit receipt among families who experience homelessness? This brief uses data collected for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Family Options Study to analyze patterns of receipt of TANF cash assistance, SNAP food assistance, and publicly funded health insurance benefits among these families, with a focus on the characteristics of those receiving and not receiving benefits. The brief: Examines whether family characteristics, including age, marital status, and demographic characteristics relate to benefit receipt, explores the relationship between benefit receipt and housing instability following an initial shelter stay, and examines whether help accessing benefits is related to families’ TANF receipt.

 

Walton, D., Dunton, L., & Groves, L., (2017). Child and partner transitions among families experiencing
        homelessness
. Homeless Families Research Brief, OPRE Report No. 2017-26.
        https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/child_partner_separation_brief_06_29_2017_b508_2.pdf

This brief explores child and partner separations among families experiencing homelessness. Additionally, the brief examines: family separations and reunifications in the 20 months after being in emergency shelter and; the association between family separation and recent housing instability following the initial shelter stay. This is the fourth in a series of research briefs sponsored by OPRE and ASPE that draws on data collected as part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Family Options Study. The Family Options Study has data on 2,282 homeless families with children in twelve communities across the country.

 

Brown, S. R., Shinn, M., & Khadduri, J. (2017). Well-being of young children after experiencing homelessness.
        Department of Health and Human Services
. Homeless Families Research Brief, OPRE Report No 2017-
        06. https://aspe.hhs.gov/system/files/pdf/255741/homefambrief.pdf

This brief examines the well-being of young children 20 months after staying in emergency homeless shelters with their families. Using data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Family Options StudyVisit disclaimer page, the brief explores young children’s: pre-reading skills, pre-math skills, developmental delays, and behavior challenges. It draws comparisons between children who experienced homelessness and national norms for children of the same age. The brief also examines housing instability, childcare instability, and enrollment in center-based care and Head Start, and associations between housing and childcare stability and child well-being.

 

Walker, J. T., Brown, S. R., & Shinn, M. (2016). Adolescent well-being after experiencing family homelessness.
        Department of Health and Human Services
. Homeless Families Research Brief, OPRE Report No. 2016-
        42. https://aspe.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/205256/adolescents.pdf

Most adolescents who experience homelessness do so as part of a family that includes at least one adult. This brief examines the well-being of adolescents who recently experienced homelessness with their families and continued to be part of the family 20 months later. Using data from the Family Options Study, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, this brief explores the housing situations, academic development, and social development of these adolescents.

 

Burt, M. R., Khadduri, J., & Gubits, D., (2016). Are homeless families connected to the social safety net? Homeless
        Families Research Brief, OPRE Report No. 2016-33         https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/opre_homefam_brief1_hhs_participation_benefits_programs_033016_b508.pdf

This brief examines whether families experiencing homelessness are connected to the benefits and services of the social safety net. We found that – while participation rates varied by program – for most safety net programs, homeless families in our sample reported rates of participation greater than or equal to those of other deeply poor families. This research brief takes advantage of data collected for the Family Options StudyVisit disclaimer page, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is the first in a series of research briefs that will draw on data from the Family Options Study to answer questions about family homelessness that are of interest and relevance to HHS and ACF.

Reports Published By HUD


Interim Report

The Interim Report presents results from the early implementation of the Family Options Study, describing the baseline characteristics of the families enrolled in the study and the housing and services interventions the families were offered. The report also describes the study’s design and implementation and provides preliminary information about the extent to which families enrolled in their assigned interventions.


Short-term Outcomes Report

This report, titled Family Options Study: Short-Term Impacts of Housing and Services Interventions for Homeless Families, presents the short-term outcomes of the 2,282 families enrolled in the Family Options Study, a multi-site random assignment experiment designed to study the impact of various housing and services interventions on homeless families. The report documents how families are faring approximately 20 months after random assignment to one of four interventions: 1) subsidy-only (SUB), 2) community-based rapid re-housing (CBRR), 3) project-based transitional housing (PBTH), or 4) usual care. Outcome measures fall within five domains: housing stability; family preservation; adult well-being; child well-being; and self-sufficiency. The collection of extensive cost data for each of the interventions tested enables the calculation of the costs that can be tied to each of the interventions, and in turn, used to understand the cost of achieving the outcomes observed. The study resulted in strong and significant findings, particularly related to the power of offering a long-term housing subsidy to a family residing in emergency shelter.

On July 8, 2015, HUD/PD&R hosted a public briefing on the short-term outcomes of the Family Options Study. Watch a recording of the webcast here, and listen to a presentation of the study findings from the research team, as well as a moderated Q&A with Federal leaders working to address homelessness.


Long-Term Outcomes Report

This report, titled Family Options Study: Long-Term Impacts of Housing and Services Interventions for Homeless Families, presents the long-term outcomes of the 2,282 families enrolled in the Family Options Study, a multi-site random assignment experiment designed to study the impact of various housing and services interventions on homeless families. The report documents how families are faring approximately 37 months after random assignment to one of four interventions: 1) subsidy-only (SUB), 2) community-based rapid re-housing (CBRR), 3) project-based transitional housing (PBTH), or 4) usual care. Outcome measures fall within five domains: housing stability; family preservation; adult well-being; child well-being; and self-sufficiency. The collection of extensive cost data for each of the interventions tested enables the calculation of the costs that can be tied to each of the interventions, and in turn, used to understand the cost of achieving the outcomes observed. The findings at 37-months in large part mirror the findings documented at 20 months, with the outcomes again demonstrating the power of a long-term housing subsidy to convey significant benefits to families experiencing homelessness when compared with the outcomes of families offered other interventions.

On October 25, 2016, HUD/PD&R hosted a public briefing on the long-term outcomes of the Family Options Study. Watch a recording of the webcast here, and listen to a presentation of the study findings from the research team, as well as a moderated Q&A with Federal leaders working to address homelessness. Access the Long-Term Outcomes Report here, and the summary brief of key findings here.


Long-Term Tracking Study

Coming soon.