Comprehensive Housing and Vocational Services


  • Lutheran Social Services of Northern California, California

Focus Area

  • Housing

“Our theory of change is that young people come to LSS after experiencing the trauma of homelessness, and through housing and individualized supportive services they develop their own sense of who they are and where they're going, and the skills to explore their passions.”

- Dr. Carol Roberts, CEO, Lutheran Social Services (LSS) of Northern California

The Issue

Challenges, hardships, and obstacles are universal. But even though everyone faces difficulties, not everyone has been given the same resources to support themselves in difficult situations. 

Take youth and young adults in foster care as an example. These young people, after a childhood of constant change and without the support and guidance of close family, often struggle with the demands of adulthood. They are more likely to have mental health challenges and to experience homelessness once they’ve aged out of foster care. And without a steady lifetime example of healthy family functioning, their own children are also more likely to end up in foster care. As a society, we know very little about how to counteract this cycle of struggle. 

What we do know is that experiencing homelessness as a young person often leads to chronic homelessness and lifelong challenges. Half of all homeless adults were homeless as youth. And while communities across the country must answer the call to care for their homeless neighbors, California feels this most urgently. The Golden State has one of the largest populations of homeless people in the country, and about one-third of all homeless youth live in the state. 

Youth exiting foster care face an especially difficult challenge, suddenly and completely self-reliant as they stand on the precipice of adulthood and striking out on their own. They often enter the adult world without financial and emotional support, a well-rounded education, credit or rental history, or the professional training and experience crucial for landing a job that will cover all of their new expenses. From there, it’s all too easy to fall into a pattern of homelessness and related troubles, like involvement with the criminal justice system, substance abuse, and poor mental health. 

It’s clear that older foster youth have complex and urgent needs. They also have great potential to flourish. But despite their vulnerability and promise, little research has been done to help us understand how to best support foster youth on the cusp of adulthood. How can we make sure they avoid ever falling into a cycle of homelessness and poverty? Safe and stable housing is a crucial first step, but only part of the puzzle. Programs that combine housing and supportive services may be the key to helping these young people gain the educational, employment, and life skills they need to enter adulthood with confidence and a fair shot at success.

The Intervention

Lutheran Social Services (LSS) of Northern California focuses exclusively on services to prevent and end homelessness. They offer a variety of programs to meet this end, including the Transitional-Aged Youth (TAY) Education and Employment Initiative, which provides housing, mentoring, and educational and employment opportunities for youth aged 18 to 24 who are aging out of foster care. 

With the question of where they will live resolved, program participants can put their minds towards other pursuits--like building a foundation for future stability and reaching their life goals. 

The TAY Initiative’s education and employment services give young people the opportunity to complete and continue their education--whether that’s finishing high school, making a plan for college, or attending trade school or a certification program. The program also helps participants master the skills desirable to area employers through real experience working for one of LSS’s social enterprise businesses. TAY staff ensure that participants are set up with at least six months of continuous employment after leaving the program, and are on a track to obtain a living wage job within five years. Perhaps most crucially, the TAY initiative helps youth build the connections with caring family, friends, and community members that can sustain and support them through the ups and downs of life to come. 

LSS believes that this combination of housing and supportive services allows the young people they serve to develop their own sense of who they are, where they’re going, and what they need to do to achieve their dreams. This intervention aims to leave youth with the all-encompassing skills that will aid them in becoming self-sufficient.

Research Question

What is the effect of comprehensive housing and vocational services for homeless youth on returns to homelessness, employment, and educational attainment?

Intended Outcomes

  • Those who participate in LSS’s TAY Education and Employment Initiative program will have improved housing stability, educational attainment, and employment outcomes.

Research Study Design

The study of Lutheran Social Services’ Transitional-Aged Youth Education and Employment Initiative includes both a retrospective analysis and a randomized controlled trial (RCT). The retrospective analysis examines data from participants who have already graduated from LSS’s youth housing and support services. LSS will use insights from this analysis to further refine its program design to maximize positive impacts. Demonstrating the past effectiveness of LSS’s services will also increase the number of youth referrals from LSS’s partner organizations. 

Following the retrospective analysis, the RCT will measure the TAY Initiative’s impact on current participant outcomes, such as housing stability, homelessness, employment, high school completion/GED attainment, and post-secondary enrollment.

For this stage of the study, LSS accepts referrals of eligible youth from two community partners--Sacramento Steps Forward and Child Protective Services. Because there are not enough spots in the TAY Initiative for all eligible youth, a random lottery is used to determine who receives services. Referred youth meet with an intake specialist who gathers their information, obtains their consent for the research study,  and uses a randomization tool to determine if they will receive a spot in the program. Youth who are randomly selected to enter the program become part of the treatment group and will receive housing and other supportive services for the next one to two years. Youth who are not randomly selected to enter the program become part of the control group and are referred back to Sacramento Steps Forward, Child Protective Services, or another program.   

The LEO research team will measure outcomes for both groups at various points after consenting to the study and after completion of the program. Following the study’s completion, LEO researchers will compare educational, employment, and housing stability outcomes across both groups.

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