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Targeted, Evidence-Based Strategies To Prevent Homelessness


Keywords: Homelessness, Community

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Targeted, Evidence-Based Strategies To Prevent Homelessness

Aerial view of downtown Cincinnati, Ohio.The goal of targeted prevention is to reduce first-time homelessness and decrease inflow into the homeless response system. Photo credit:

Homeless response systems aim to minimize the number of people without housing, which means both housing people who are already experiencing homelessness and preventing people from entering homelessness in the first place. Effective homeless response systems require a strategic, evidence-based approach to make the most of local resources. On February 15, 2024, the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) hosted a webinar about targeted strategies to prevent homelessness. The webinar included presentations from Kay Moshier McDivitt, senior technical assistance specialist at NAEH; Tom Albanese, an independent consultant based in Columbus, Ohio; and Marcy Thompson, vice president of programs and policy at NAEH. The webinar also featured a panel discussion hosted by Albanese that included Stephanie Hawthorne, director of the homelessness prevention program at Community of Hope in Washington, D.C.; Dana Vanderford, associate director of homelessness prevention at the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services; Jamie Hummer, program director at Strategies to End Homelessness in Cincinnati, Ohio; Sarah Pavone, director of strategy at Journey Home in Hartford, Connecticut; and Maseta Dorley, senior associate at Technical Assistance Collaborative.

Targeted Prevention

Targeted prevention is a form of assistance designed to prevent at-risk individuals and households from experiencing homelessness. Targeted prevention focuses on people at the "front door" of homelessness — those who have not yet presented to the emergency shelter system but are within days or weeks of doing so. Many of these individuals are living in "doubled-up" situations, staying with friends or relatives. The goal of targeted prevention is to reduce first-time homelessness and decrease inflow into the homeless response system. Albanese framed targeted prevention within the context of targeted universalism, a broader approach that emphasizes allocating resources strategically to those most at risk, and noted that federal programs such as Emergency Solutions Grants and Supportive Services for Veteran Families reflect this approach.

Several panelists highlighted the importance of using every available resource to connect individuals at risk of homelessness to resources, including building connections between the shelter system and community-based responses. Dorley highlighted the importance of coordinating with nontraditional partners such as faith communities, social clubs, and community colleges. These organizations can support people at risk of homelessness, especially rural residents who may have reduced access to mainstream service providers. Hawthorne emphasized that family and friend networks can be valuable resources for keeping people from entering homelessness.

Data-Driven Strategies

Panelists discussed various evidence-based strategies, often involving spatial analysis, to identify people needing targeted prevention. Hummer said her organization used both quantitative and qualitative analysis to learn from which areas of the city people are entering the homeless response system. The analysis revealed a concentration of high-risk individuals in the ZIP Code corresponding to the Westwood region of Cincinnati, highlighting where Strategies to End Homelessness should foster relationships with service providers.

Pavone described how her organization used data to develop a targeted prevention strategy, pairing analysis of a year's worth of inflow data with qualitative interviews of individuals who experienced homelessness in the same year. Her organization's analysis used geographic information systems to visualize areas of need, drawing on publicly available data on poverty rates, crime rates, housing code violations, and eviction rates. These methods allowed her organization to focus its efforts on specific populations and ZIP Codes.

Some organizations are using data to develop innovative outreach programs. Vanderford described a cold-calling outreach process used by Los Angeles County's Homelessness Prevention Unit. Using a predictive model that draws on more than 400 factors from county service utilization records, the process identifies individuals likely to be at risk of homelessness. County staff then reach out to these individuals and help them navigate the resources available to them. This program complements an existing "raised hand" system of prevention in which people on the verge of homelessness can reach out to the county for help. Vanderford says these programs are reaching people who, because of a lack of access, systemic complexity, or other reasons, typically are not included in referral-based programs.

A Holistic Approach

In her closing remarks, Marcy Thompson of NAEH emphasized that targeted prevention must be part of a comprehensive approach that addresses the underlying causes of homelessness as well as the immediate problem. Targeted prevention strategies must occur in tandem with "upstream prevention," or efforts to mitigate the structural factors that result in housing instability, such as raising incomes and improving access to health care and affordable housing. These interventions require cooperation with other social service systems to ensure accountability for strengthening the social safety net.

Published Date: 2 April 2024

This article was written by Sage Computing Inc, under contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.