Program design matters for preventing homelessness and connecting clients to services
Clients receiving more intensive case management show even greater connection to programs along with no increase in eviction filings
Clients receiving financial assistance quickly are less likely to be evicted
Clients receiving case management are more likely to access homelessness services
Null or negative results can lead to programmatic shifts, improving overall effectiveness of a service
King County is committed to making homelessness an experience that is rare, brief, and non-recurring. Research indicates that providing financial assistance reduces shelter entry for people at risk of homelessness, and King County has committed considerable resources to this type of service. King County’s Youth and Family Homelessness Prevention Initiative (YFHPI) is funded by Best Starts for Kids, a King County voter-approved initiative that promotes healthier, more resilient children, youth and families in King County. Since its launch in 2017, YFHPI has served approximately 10,000 youth and families. While prevention services are broadly supported, King County wanted to understand the impact one aspect of their services, case management, had on people served. YFHPI’s case management is based on a model of progressive engagement, originally piloted by the Domestic Violence Housing First project. Progressive engagement allows a case manager to provide services that are individualized for the client situation. Case managers can provide support with landlords, a housing search, broader activities like support in finding employment and child care and can also provide flexible financial assistance. Clients are eligible for support if they are currently housed, but at imminent risk of homelessness, and the household must include either a dependent child or a head of household under the age of 25. Twenty-five local service providers were involved in the evaluation.
Participants completed the Standardized Risk of Homelessness Tool, based on the City of Seattle’s homelessness prevention tool. Participants were then separated into two groups: (a) those who received financial assistance and (b) those who received case management as well as financial assistance. Program participants in the funding only group received an average of $1445; participants who are offered case management received an average of $1425. The case management recipients received slightly less financial assistance on average because they were more likely to exit the program before receiving funds when compared to the funding only group. However, the case management recipients who engaged with their case managers were more likely to receive larger amounts. LEO researchers worked with King County Department of Community and Human Services staff to link YFHPI records with data from HMIS, the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, as well as records that indicate address changes. LEO teamed up with University of Washington researchers to utilize qualitative observations and interviews as well as program records on financial transactions and time sheets to analyze YFHPI agencies in practice.
What we learned
Of those enrolled in the original study, case management did not improve housing stability significantly, on average, beyond financial assistance alone. Participants who received case management and financial assistance were more likely to access other homelessness services but were not more likely to be evicted.
LEO and King County partnered to understand this counter-intuitive result and conducted a non-experimental analysis based on non-random, natural variation in approaches across case managers, including how quickly different case managers paid financial assistance. This resulted in finding that case management may lead to positive outcomes when it is more intensive and pays financial assistance quickly. In response, King County made programmatic changes to the YFHPI program to standardize the way case management + financial assistance is delivered.
Where we are going
LEO is continuing to partner with organizations throughout the entire research and dissemination process to fully understand the research in order to put it to use. In some cases, this means taking a close look at null or negative results to inform programmatic shifts.
LEO and King County have multiple ongoing projects studying other anti-poverty programs offered in the county.