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21st August
written by Sharon McDonald

In July, researchers contracted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development provided an update on a study that examines the comparative impact of various housing and service interventions on families experiencing homelessness. To date, more than 2,000 families in 12 communities have enrolled in the Family Options Study. While the current data available is limited to the baseline level, some findings do raise questions about how well we are using our homeless and mainstream resources to prevent and end homelessness.

Readers who are interested in listening to an audio recording of HUD’s July 19 presentation on this study can download Part 1 of the recording here, and Part 2 here.

Here’s a look at the study’s findings:

  • Resources for homelessness prevention: As in other studies, the data indicate that parents in homeless families are very young. Nearly 30 percent of the mothers are under the age of 25. They are also very poor, with an annual income averaging around $7,500. Significantly, more families are coming from doubled-up situations than are being evicted from housing they hold in their own name. This is useful information when it comes to assessing our use of homelessness prevention resources and the characteristics of the kinds of families most likely to fall into homelessness. It tells us that we should be targeting our resources at multi-generational and doubled-up families, families with very young parents, and families with minimal incomes.
  • Resources for vulnerable and low-income families: The findings also provide further evidence that the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program is underserving families: only 41 percent of the families reported receiving income from the TANF program. The data also show that a larger percentage, 27 percent, of parents enrolled in the program spent at least parts of their childhood and adolescence in foster care, though it remains unclear how many aged out of foster care and how many were reunified with their family. Though incomplete, this finding is important. If we are to improve the services that children and youth in foster care receive in their transition from the welfare system to their families of origin (or independent living) we must have a better understanding of this relationship between child welfare and subsequent homelessness.
  • Resources for homeless families: Perhaps one of the most surprising findings, and one that should give pause to all homeless service providers and system planners, concerns the use of transitional housing. Nearly 80 percent of the families the researchers referred to a project-based transitional housing were denied admittance to that program. Indeed, the eligibility criteria for many of these programs, which are supposed to offer service-rich interventions for homeless families, screen out all but a small segment of that population. Given the relative cost of transitional housing, this finding alone should generate some critical evaluation of how local communities are using scarce resources to assist at-risk and homeless families.


  1. 21/08/2012

    I have been unable to view the presentations from the links provided or find them elsewhere. Have they been removed or is there another way to access them? Thanks.

  2. holey moley! Monthly incomes of $625! And 60% were getting no help from TANF: WHAT! What are their lives like????? Well, I am grateful for the study; we cannot afford to waste a dime on ineffective programs or practices.

  3. 22/08/2012

    I don’t find any of these findings surprising. Families double up because that is preferable to going to a shelter. In many communities $7500 won’t even pay for housing. So there is no way that allocations of “prevention” funds are going to move those families to the $35000 they need to be stably housed. While many programs can make progress, it takes longer than two years to move the typical family from $7500 to $35000. That is why transitional programs are so selective. At our agency we have given up transitional programs because if the goal is to move people into permanent housing, we may as well work with them in their doubled up situation, and save the housing for those with disabling conditions. As for TANF it would be helpful to know how many of the people not using TANF had already timed out of the program. One of the worst legacies of the Clinton administration was ending welfare as we know it.