Nearly every major city in the United States offers a hotline for people on the brink of homelessness to request emergency financial assistance. But are these services helpful for preventing homelessness or do they fall flat?
A new study is the first to show that these hotlines are, in fact, incredibly beneficial for people facing homelessness, and that emergency financial assistance does successfully prevents homelessness — when funding is available.
“Policymakers and housing experts have long debated how best to address the persistent problem of homelessness in the United States,” said researcher James Sullivan, Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Notre Dame. “Our study shows that not only do targeted prevention programs work, but they also can save the community money.”
The study was based on data from the Homelessness Prevention Call Center (HPCC) in Chicago, run by Catholic Charities Chicago. The center is one of the largest in the nation, taking an average of 70,000 calls annually.
Every year more than 2.3 million people in the U.S. experience homelessness, 7.4 million people live “doubled up” with friends or family for economic reasons, and many more are on the brink of homelessness.
In addition to the negative mental, developmental, and health problems that arise among homeless adults and children, homelessness costs a community more than $5,000 for each person who enters a shelter.
The study, recently published in the journal Science, examines the impact of financial assistance for 4,500 individuals and families who called the HPCC between 2010 and 2012. The researchers linked information from the call center to administrative data on entries to and exits from Chicago homeless shelters, collected by All Chicago, a social services initiative whose goal is to help the homeless.
Since available funds vary on a day-to-day basis, the researchers were able to look at the shelter entry rates of people seeking assistance on a day when funding is available compared to callers seeking assistance when no funding is available.
The researchers found that people who called when funds were available were 76 percent less likely to enter a shelter within six months of their call than people who had reached out when funds were not available. Notably, even a year after calling, people who had been financially helped by HPCC were significantly less likely to become homeless.
The findings indicate that call centers that have insufficient resources to serve their communities should target families with the greatest risk of homelessness — those with a very low income.
The results also suggest that policymakers should consider emergency financial assistance as an effective, evidence-based approach for preventing homelessness.
Source: University of Notre Dame