Evaluation of the HUD Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program: Final Report
HUD created the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP) in 2017 to assist local Continuums of Care (CoCs) in planning, developing, and implementing coordinated responses to youth experiencing homelessness. Since its launch, YHDP has funded more than 90 CoCs, encouraging systems that serve youth experiencing homelessness to work more closely with Youth Action Boards (YABs), child welfare agencies, and other partners to build and deploy comprehensive plans to end homelessness among youth and young adults aged 14 to 24. The lessons from YHDP have been instrumental in shaping ongoing policy on homelessness at HUD and other federal partner agencies. To better understand the policy and research implications of YHDP, HUD launched a longitudinal, cross-site evaluation of the program that tracked the efforts of 10 first-round CoCs throughout the demonstration. The researchers conducted the evaluation in stages with multiple published reports, including an early implementation report, an initial CoC survey report, and a youth perspectives report, and final report. The final report, which compares the 10 first-round YHDP CoCs with 3 similarly situated CoCs not participating in YHDP, sought to better understand the effect of YHDP on the coordination and availability of housing, services, and supports for youth. Researchers examined the baseline condition of systems and the impact of changes to these systems on the size and composition of youth populations experiencing homelessness to determine YHDP’s effectiveness. Of particular interest was the role of YHDP in securing exits to permanent housing for youth experiencing homelessness, a mixed result with considerable differences across sites.
Research Purpose and Methods
The evaluation relied on data collected from four sources. First, a document review of YHDP community plans, grant applications, needs assessments, and relevant information from HUD and technical assistance providers offered insights into baseline status and the planning process in communities. Second, three rounds of site visits in 2019, 2020, and 2021 informed researchers about changes in the CoCs’ youth homelessness systems over time; in particular, the opportunities and challenges they experienced. The site visits included focus groups with youth representing a range of characteristics, including LGBTQ+ youth and parenting and pregnant youth. The COVID-19 pandemic required evaluators to conduct the second and third rounds of site visits virtually. Third, Homeless Management Information System data from the 10 first-round YHDP sites and the 3 nonfunded CoC peer sites generated findings about services and housing assistance received, rates of exit to permanent housing, the average length of stay of youth in various programs, and fluctuations in the size and composition of the youth population experiencing homelessness. Fourth, a web survey administered to CoCs nationally at two different points — the launch of the first-round projects and the conclusion of the first-round demonstration, was sent to all CoC lead agency directors. The web survey was intended to gather information about the nature of youth-serving homelessness systems, devoting particular attention to the ways in which these systems structured outreach, coordinated entry, and provided crisis housing (emergency shelter or transitional housing) and permanent housing.
From these qualitative and quantitative data sources, researchers developed an analysis that compared findings among the 10 first-round CoCs, the 3 nonfunded peer CoCs, and CoCs nationally. Researchers examined how systems governance changed over time — in particular, YAB and youth involvement in planning and decisionmaking — and the overall context of each site. Researchers also used Point-in-Time counts to study changes in the number of youths experiencing homelessness between 2017 and 2020 at the first-round demonstration sites and the three peer comparison locations.
Compared with the peer comparison sites, YHDP led to positive changes in youth-involved planning and governance, cross-system coordination, housing available to youth, services received by youth, and increases in the number of youth transitioning to permanent housing. The final report, however, also found no clear or consistent pattern in the relationship between YHDP-influenced changes and the overall size and composition of the population served by these programs and that population’s exit to permanent housing. Despite these mixed results, some key findings can inform ongoing policy development and research.
YHDP led to the development of governance structures responsible for guiding decisions throughout the program, including maintaining an active YAB consisting of youth aged 24 and younger that could help plan and implement programs. The first-round CoCs were more likely than the three comparison CoCs and CoCs nationally to have plans to engage youth in governance and decisionmaking. By the end of the demonstration, 5 of 10 first-round CoCs had active YABs, with the remaining sites lacking actively participating YABs. Several factors explain this shift, including the challenge of sustaining youth involvement in governance because of the COVID-19 pandemic along with limited staff capacity at sites.
An evident strength of YHDP in the first-round CoCs was the degree of coordination with the major systems of child welfare, education, behavioral health, and juvenile justice. Housing and child welfare were the most common activities coordinated among CoCs and these systems in the first round, causing the number of CoCs involved in housing and child welfare agencies to double between 2019 and 2021. For example, in one of the first-round sites, Connecticut Balance of State, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families used YHDP to fund a state-level position dedicated to addressing housing for youth involved in child welfare. This high level of coordination with primary systems was not apparent in non-YHDP locations nationally.
YHDP led to measurable increases in the availability of youth-specific housing and services. Compared with the three peer sites and CoCs nationally, YHDP sites had more youth-specific outreach services and access to drop-in centers, improved coordinated entry systems, increased use of navigation assistance, and enhanced diversion assistance. The first-round YHDPs, which are in the early stages of development among youth-serving homelessness systems, experienced the greatest increases in youth receiving outreach services; between 2017 and 2020, Santa Cruz increased services to this population by 14 percent and Anchorage increased services by 44 percent. Securing stable housing for youth was challenging across sites, but YHDP contributed to the increased availability of crisis housing, host homes, rapid rehousing, and permanent supportive housing. In most CoCs with YHDP funding, crisis housing was the most common intervention for youth. Through qualitative data collected in focus groups, researchers learned that youth-specific crisis housing was highly valued because youth articulated their concerns about personal safety and vulnerability associated with adult shelters.
The final report found no clear pattern of change in the size of the population of youth experiencing homelessness across YHDP sites. Six first-round sites served more youth in 2020 than in 2017, and the remaining four sites served fewer youth during this period. Researchers were uncertain about whether YHDP-specific influences, national trends, or other contextual factors affected the composition of youth served. For example, between 2017 and 2020, the proportion of males served decreased, and the racial and ethnic composition of youth receiving housing and services shifted, including an increase in the number of youth of color being served. YHDP’s success in helping youth exit to permanent housing was also mixed, with exit rates in 2020 ranging from 11 percent to 69 percent across sites.
Implications for Policy and Further Research
The final report illustrates some clear findings about YHDP’s role in helping communities plan, develop, and implement systems to address youth experiencing homelessness. The program demonstrated meaningful positive changes in the development of youth-involved governance structures, coordination with other systems, growth in the amount of housing and services provided that meet the needs of youth, and the receipt of specific services such as navigation and rapid rehousing. However, the researchers did not find clear patterns in how YHDP affected the population it served or in exits to permanent housing. The COVID-19 pandemic likely was partially responsible for the evaluation’s inconclusive findings because of its influence on youth homelessness services –including restricted access to shelters, how youth sought housing, and changes to resources and programs nationally. Researchers also noted a high baseline variance among sites, and a short implementation timeline of the program.