Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Do Homelessness Prevention Programs Prevent Homelessness?

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 10:35 AM
Zamora (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

James Sullivan, University of Notre Dame
Homelessness is a major problem in the U.S. afflicting more than 3.5 million people each year. In an effort to combat this persistent problem, most large cities operate emergency call centers that help provide individuals and families who are at risk of eviction with temporary financial assistance for needs such as rent, security deposits, and utilities. Through such programs, billions of dollars are distributed to at-risk people each year to help avoid the downward spiral into homelessness. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included $1.5 billion to support such efforts. Despite the scale of these homeless prevention efforts, there is very little evidence of whether emergency financial assistance is effective at preventing homelessness. This study examines the impact of the Chicago Homeless Prevention Call Center which handles more than 70,000 calls each year. Taking advantage of the functionally random availability of emergency funds, we compare clients who call on days when funding is available to those who call on days when funding is not available, to determine whether access to funding reduces the likelihood an individual or family ends up in a homeless shelter. Our results show that those seeking rent assistance who call when funding is available are 1.3 percentage points less likely to enter a homeless shelter within the 3 to 6 months following the call, a decline of more than 50%. We find similar, though less statistically significant, results for callers seeking assistance with security deposits.