A FUTURE STRATEGY FOR HOMELESSNESS PREVENTION

As homelessness prevention policies and programs develop in the United States and elsewhere (Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, 2013), the scientific study of prevention interventions would help to identify what works best for whom. Burt et al. (2007) have emphasized that an effective overall prevention approach must not be limited to stopping people from ever becoming homeless, but must also involve the rapid return to stable housing when people experience an initial episode of homelessness, and end long-term homelessness for those with persistent street and shelter living. In a study of community-wide strategies for preventing homelessness, Burt et al. (2007) identified five activities that could address all levels of homelessness prevention: housing subsidies, supportive services combined with permanent housing, mediation in housing courts, cash assistance for rent arrears, and rapid exits from shelters (Burt et al., 2007, pp. 219-220). Culhane et al. (2011) have suggested that prevention resources could be allocated through a process of “progressive engagement.” By conducting triage and multiple assessments to determine changing needs over time, individuals would be matched with differing intensities of housing support and services. Less intensive supports, such as time-limited small or “shallow” rent subsidies, would be tried first and could be effective with a large number of people who experience homelessness. More intensive services such as permanent supportive housing and longer-term rental assistance would be reserved for disabled and high-need individuals (Culhane et al., 2011; Montgomery et al., 2013). A reverse process could take place for people with mental illness in supportive housing. With clinical improvement and greater social competence, a lessening of treatment and support needs may signal readiness for more independent living. Homelessness prevention interventions could reduce the long-term dollar costs of homelessness and markedly improve the quality of life for those at risk. There is ample reason to continue to develop this important area of service delivery.

 
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