Do Homelessness Prevention Programs Work?

Author: Kathryn Desai

The MIT Press Reader recently spoke with LEO cofounder, Jim Sullivan, and LEO research professor, David Phillips about their recently published targeted #homelessness prevention study. The conversation gave way to key insights about the findings and on how we should think about prevention strategies in the landscape of homelessness solutions.

From the article:

The study, published in the May 2023 issue of The Review of Economics and Statistics, evaluated individuals and families at imminent risk of being evicted or becoming homeless between July 2019 and December 2020. These families eligible had moderate risk scores according to an index used to measure vulnerability and were ineligible for other prevention programs as they could not demonstrate the ability to pay rent in the future. A randomly selected subset of households were offered emergency financial assistance as well as non-financial services such as credit counseling and landlord dispute resolution. The control group only received the nonfinancial services. During the period of study, the average treatment household received about $2,000 to pay rent, utilities and other housing-related expenses. LEO used data on individuals from the county’s Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS) and data on addresses from Infutor Data Solutions to compare shelter entry and address changes across the families assigned to receive assistance with this same information for families who were not.

So, what did they learn? The authors of the study, David Phillips, a research professor at LEO, and James Sullivan, a professor of economics and co-founder of LEO, found that people offered the emergency financial assistance were 81 percent less likely to become homeless within six months of enrollment and 73 percent less likely within 12 months. This means that providing financial assistance to those at imminent risk of homelessness decreases the chance of a recipient needing to enter a shelter and decreases homelessness over time rather than just delaying it.

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