Modeling the Relationship Between the Housing First Approach and Homelessness

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Boston, David
Lung-Amam, Willow
A growing body of evidence from individual-level studies demonstrating that the Housing First approach is effective at keeping those experiencing homelessness in stable housing has led to the approach being championed by many leading experts, especially as a way to address chronic homelessness (O'Flaherty, 2019). This helps us understand the relationship between Housing First and an individual’s homelessness, but we know very little about the relationship between implementation of a Housing First approach and overall homelessness rates in a community. In a 2019 survey of homelessness research published by the Journal of Housing Economics, Brendan O’Flaherty wrote: “What has been missing in studies of Housing First are estimates of aggregate impact: does operating a Housing First program actually reduce the total amount of homelessness in a community?” Through this study, I sought to understand if Continuums of Care (CoC) that have adopted a Housing First approach by dedicating a higher proportion of their resources towards permanent housing units are associated with a lower proportion of people experiencing homelessness between the years 2009 and 2017 than CoCs dedicating a higher proportion of their resources towards emergency shelter and other short-term solutions. Additionally, I sought to understand how that relationship between the implementation of a Housing First approach and homelessness rates change as the values of median rent, unemployment, and other covariates typically associated with homelessness rates change. I hypothesized that CoCs adopting a Housing First approach, as defined in the context of this study, would experience lower homelessness rates. The hypothesis that homelessness rates would decrease as the Housing First index increases was supported by the results, but the relationship is more complex than hypothesized. The relationship between Housing First and homelessness rates was quadratic in nature and influenced by an interaction effect with housing tenure. Jurisdictions that adopted a Housing First approach generally experienced lower homelessness rates, except where a vast majority of households are owner-occupied.