Boston – A new report on homelessness released today by the Boston Foundation and the Center for Social Policy at the University of Massachusetts/Boston offers compelling evidence that preventing homelessness before it happens is more effective and costs far less than current strategies, which place far greater emphasis on emergency respite for those who have already lost their homes.
“This study goes a long way to end the all-too-common hunch that some people are simply doomed to homelessness regardless of how they are helped,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation. “In fact, many incidents of homelessness happen because of a one-off economic event that pushes a financially fragile family or individual out onto the street. If we approach the issue strategically, we can make a dramatic reduction in the number of homeless households—and in all the damage that inflicts.”
The report, titled Preventing Homelessness and Promoting Housing Stability: A Comparative Analysis is the result of the Homelessness Prevention Initiative, a joint project of the Boston Foundation, the Starr Foundation, Tufts Health Plan and the Massachusetts Medical Society. Recognizing a dearth of coordinated research into the rates of success of existing programs designed to address homelessness, this partnership engaged the Center for Social Policy at UMass-Boston’s McCormack Graduate School to research and evaluate existing programs.
The report represents the culmination of a three-year study involving 28 Massachusetts nonprofit organizations who received grants through the Homelessness Prevention Initiative and nine regional organizations that administer the RAFT Program. In addition to the funders listed above, the Ludcke Foundation, the Fireman Foundation and the Oak Foundation took part in the study, as well as the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. Homes for Families joined with the Center for Social Policy to conduct 10 focus groups including 72 parents and individuals who discussed homelessness with the guidance of an advisory board comprised of individuals who have experiences homelessness.
The findings of the report underscore how effective prevention can be as a strategy, especially if agencies working with people at risk of becoming homeless have the flexibility to use their resources to address the specific needs of individual clients, which can vary greatly from case to case.
“Homelessness devastates the lives of thousands of individuals and families in the Commonwealth and programs to address the situation have been expensive out of proportion to the benefits they bring,” said Grogan. “This study offers clear proof that we need to think in terms of prevention, both because it serves those in need better and because it makes the best use of our limited resources.”
The study reviewed three programs designed to prevent homelessness: The Homeless Prevention Initiative; RAFT (Rental Assistance to Families in Transition); and RAFT Plus, a program funded by the Oak Foundation and designed to serve families not eligible for RAFT.
The Homeless Prevention Initiative is the only one of the three programs surveyed that serves families as well as individuals. In the three year period included in this evaluation, HPI grantee organizations served 1,849 families and 2,417 individuals, a total of 4,315 households. In some cases, HPI provided direct assistance to support families and individuals at risk of becoming homeless. Other programs addressed the needs of individuals about to be discharged from prison or jail. A third group served by HPI included state residents with mental health or substance abuse issues.
RAFT is administered by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community development. Nine regional nonprofits across the state received annual funding of $5 million. This money was used to target families and individuals who had experienced a recent sudden drop in income or sharp increase in expenses—which can push families and individuals into homelessness. Small payments tailored to the specific need of the clients were designed to stave off homelessness.
RAFT Plus serves families at risk of homelessness who do not qualify for RAFT.
In aggregate, the three programs examined proved highly successful. At a one-year follow-up for clients of the three programs, fully 75 percent of families and 63 percent of individuals overall had achieved a stable home. That included 79 percent of RAFT clients and 91 percent of RAFT Plus clients. Successful interventions typically included the following elements: cash assistance used together with intensive case management, as well as a collaboration among agencies to make the most of resources available for the clients.
“This report is a loud and clear call for making more strategic use of resources we already have,” said Terry Lane, Vice President for Program at the Boston Foundation. “The key element in this report is the combination of a focus on individuals and families and the unique needs each client presents, in addition to modest amounts of financial assistance. When we help someone through that critical moment when the ability to care for themselves flags, we can get them back to stable independence.”
The report includes specific recommendations for public, philanthropic and non-profit organizations. Among the highlights are:
• Ensure steady and predictable RAFT funding for families at risk;
• Create a closer collaboration between the Office of Housing and Economic development and the agencies within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services;
• Sustain the effort to review strategies in place and build on those with a proven history of success;
• Continue to convene leaders from the full range of agencies and organizations that serve people at risk of becoming homeless, to foster collaboration.
The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the nation, with assets of over $830 million. In 2006, the Foundation and its donors made more than $70 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of $71 million. The Foundation is made up of some 850 separate charitable funds established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes. The Boston Foundation also serves as a major civic leader, provider of information, convener, and sponsor of special initiatives designed to address the community’s and region’s most pressing challenges. For more information about the Boston Foundation, visit www.tbf.org or call 617-338-1700.
The Center for Social Policy, in the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, engages in applied research, technical assistance, program evaluation and outreach activities, which produce and disseminate high-quality information aimed at addressing social and economic inequalities in Massachusetts, New England, and across the country. CSP accomplishes its mission through active engagement with policymakers, service providers and those communities most directly affected by local state and federal social welfare policies.