• Family Promise of Spokane, Washington
  • Family Promise of West Michigan, Michigan
  • The Lord's Place, Florida

Focus Area

  • Housing

"What if we could reduce the amount of people using a homeless shelter by over 50%? What if adding a little bit of financial support to a guided conversation could result in 60 to 70% of people currently seeking shelter able to avoid experiencing homelessness all together?"

Joe Ader, Executive Director, Family Promise of Spokane

The Issue

On a given night, homeless services providers in America give shelter to nearly 350,000 people. These emergency shelter stays are meant as transitional options, yet they can be more harmful than short-term housing arrangements such as staying with friends and family or longer-term placement in rental housing.

Most individuals and families who enter emergency homeless shelters are facing short-term housing issues, but entering emergency shelters without referral to active housing support often leads to lengthy shelter stays. Not only do individuals’ struggles with homelessness and stability last longer, but additional stress is also placed on the shelters themselves.

This suggests that there may be a need for lighter tough programs which help families avoid that initial shelter entry and then avert the lengthy shelter stays that often follow. Reducing reliance on emergency shelters would transform the lives of families, allowing them to avoid the cycle of homelessness and pave the way for lasting stability and self-sufficiency. This could result in significant savings for individuals, the shelter system, and society at large, creating more supportive and resilient communities.

Although many service providers working with the homeless attempt to divert families from emergency shelters, there is limited rigorous evaluation of shelter diversion programs, especially programs with enhanced features such as financial assistance and follow-up case management.


The Intervention

Family Promise of West Michigan, Family Promise of Spokane, and the Lord’s Place (located in West Palm Beach) are three nonprofit organizations dedicated to fighting homelessness in their local communities. When speaking with clients experiencing homelessness, each of these organizations have intentional conversations to divert clients away from homelessness and costly shelter stays and towards temporary housing instead.

In these diversion conversations, they attempt to address the client’s housing crisis and help them identify something they could do, or a place they could go, to avoid entering a homeless shelter. For example, they may help clients find a relative they could stay with, assist them with landlord mediation, provide follow-up case management, or help pay for a security deposit to secure an apartment. Diversion programs aim to provide emergency assistance through referral and familial connection. They may also do so through financial assistance or follow-up case management.

Clients are eligible for the diversion programs at Family Promise and Lord’s Place if they are experiencing an immediate housing crisis and their situation is not deemed a better fit for another program. Diversion programs are designed to prevent homelessness for individuals who are at an immediate risk of becoming homeless, rather than to house people experiencing chronic homelessness or to prevent this risk from developing in the first place. Someone experiencing chronic homelessness would not be eligible because their situation may call for a heavier touch intervention. Someone who cannot pay their rent that is due soon is also not eligible for the program. They are not imminently losing their housing and may be a better fit for a rental assistance program. On the other hand, someone who has been issued an eviction notice and must leave their home within 72 hours is eligible for the program, as it is designed to help them find housing to stay out of shelter.


Research Question

For those experiencing housing crises, how does being offered flexible financial assistance during diversion conversations impact emergency housing shelter use, long and short term housing stability, and other outcomes?

Intended Outcomes

The organizations hope that those who are offered flexible financial assistance in their diversion conversations will have:

  • Decreased use of emergency housing shelters
  • Increased short and long-term housing stability
  • Improved downstream outcomes (income, employment, benefits usage, and credit/financial well-being)


Research Study Design

LEO is partnering with these three service providers to use a randomized controlled trial (RCT) design to measure the impact of supplementing their diversion conversations with flexible financial assistance and proactive follow-up case management. We hope to determine if these additional resources could substantially decrease the number of clients needing more costly shelter interventions.

During the diversion conversation, eligible clients will be randomly assigned into three groups: those who receive just a diversion conversation, those who receive the diversion conversation and financial assistance, and those who receive the diversion conversation, financial assistance, and proactive follow-up case management. Financial assistance and proactive case management both require significant resource commitments. Organizations do not currently have the resources to offer these interventions to all eligible clients. Therefore, randomization will be used as a fair way to decide to whom they will be offered.

This financial assistance can help to cover expenses such as purchasing a bus ticket to travel to stay with a family member, moving costs, or covering a friend’s utility bill in exchange for staying with them. Financial assistance is initially capped at $500, but more may be offered with approval on a case-by-case basis.

Clients who have access to financial assistance may also be assigned to receive proactive, organization-initiated case management after their diversion conversation. Caseworkers will continue to reach out to clients who are assigned to receive proactive case management at least once a week for 60 days after they have been diverted from shelter. They will not reach out to clients who are assigned to receive client-initiated case management, but these clients may reach out to the providers for additional resources, and they will receive support they request.

By comparing the outcomes of clients that were randomly assigned to each of these different groups, this study will generate evidence on whether diversion conversations along with financial assistance and case management help individuals experiencing housing crises stay out of shelters and achieve a higher degree of housing stability long-term. If the study finds that flexible financial assistance alone is beneficial to clients, partner organizations may expand this aspect of their diversion programs. Or, if results show that proactive case management is an important supplement to financial assistance for improving client outcomes, these programs will know that both interventions should be expanded.

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