2021-22 HPRI Research Agenda:
Moving Toward An Anti-Racist System For Ending and Preventing Homelessness in Los Angeles
Los Angeles is a critical site for inquiry into the growing phenomenon of homelessness in the 21st century. The Los Angeles region has made significant progress over the past decade and yet continues to experience a homelessness crisis. Since 2016, when the City and the County of Los Angeles authored complementary strategies to address homelessness across the region, Los Angeles has received unprecedented amounts of new public funding from local, state, and federal sources to implement existing and innovative homelessness interventions. These efforts have led to a greater standardization of practices — for example, regional coordinated entry systems and the implementation of multidisciplinary street outreach teams. Increased resources for housing placements include housing choice vouchers, support for move-in costs, and rapid rehousing.
Creating a Framework For Research and Analysis on Racial Equity in Los Angeles
Racial equity has been infused into the four topic areas of this research agenda: families and youth, the aging homeless population, unsheltered people experiencing homelessness, and inflow into homelessness. However, how to embed equity into research efforts is an emerging topic and still in its infancy. Therefore, HPRI proposes a separate research strategy to create a framework for research and analysis that focuses on moving toward a more anti-racist system for ending and preventing homelessness in the Los Angeles region.
The objectives of this separate research effort are defining the outcomes that research should measure and describing the methods that should be used for conducting research.
Objective 1. Co-define the outcomes that would be needed for an anti-racist system — that is a system with organizational structures, policies, practices, and attitudes that overcome the barriers to serving BIPOC equitably in the effort to end homelessness in Los Angeles.
Some examples of possible outcomes are:
- Not just equal outcomes for BIPOC as for people who are white and not Latinx, but outcomes strong enough to:
- Overcome the disproportionate representation of the racial/ethnic group among people experiencing homelessness.
- Reduce the vulnerabilities that lead to disproportionate rates of homelessness among the racial/ethnic group.
- Outcomes that align with the cultural views of racial/ethnic groups of what would be a positive outcome.
- Outcomes that relate to severe housing instability beyond HUD’s definition of literal homelessness as spending the night in a shelter or on the street.
- Outcomes that relate to the experience of people with marginalized racial and ethnic identities within the homeless services system and its providers. What policies and practices are associated with positive and negative outcomes?
- Outcomes that relate to the possible unintended consequences of programs and policies.
Objective 2. Describe the research methods needed for a focus on racial equity.
Some examples of possible methods are:
- Include the voice of people with lived expertise through qualitative research that sets context, helps define outcomes, shapes data collection instruments, and helps interpret results.
- Create a sample that focuses on the group of interest or is large enough to permit separate analysis of racial/ethnic groups.
- Create or use data with racial and ethnic categories that can be used meaningfully in the study context and permit a focus on intersectionality. Is the approach used by the U.S. Census that asks about Hispanic/Latino first and then about race adequate, or are new approaches needed? How can an adequate approach be adopted in administrative data systems used for research and analysis?
- Create data collection instruments that have been examined for bias, including questions that have already been validated but without a focus on cultural bias.
- Implement strategies to promote high response rates among marginalized groups.
- Analyze missing data with a focus on whether data are missing because of inequities.
- Convene a group of stakeholders and researchers.
- Task researchers with working on approaches to achieving the objectives. Reconvene the group to review the results.
- Pilot and test innovative approaches such as new outcome measures, new data collection techniques, and new ways of categorizing race and ethnicity, working with a particular LA service planning area or provider.
- Disseminate the results throughout the research community and among administrators of data systems.
Research Priority: Families and Youth
Need for Research to Inform Policy
Family homelessness in Los Angeles is not well understood because of the HUD definition of literal homelessness. Most families identifiable in Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) data appear to have been referred for prevention by CalWORKS, suggesting that most families with severely unstable housing are missed by the homeless services system.
The McKinney-Vento data collected by school systems that includes doubling up provides an opportunity to understand family homelessness by starting with a child identified by school social workers as experiencing housing instability.
There is existing evidence on homelessness among transition-aged youth (TAY) and interventions for addressing it. However, we know less about how to prevent middle and high-school-aged children from becoming homeless when they reach transition age, and how to prevent inter-generational patterns of homelessness, especially within BIPOC communities.
- How does the McKinney-Vento Act’s data capture of doubled up families differ from what is known of families experiencing literal homelessness — in characteristics and in housing stability and other outcomes?
- What are the risks involved with doubled up homelessness?
- What is the trajectory to becoming doubled up?
Interview school officials to understand how the application of the McKinney-Vento definition works in practice. Interview a sample of families, both parents and youth, and observe their physical housing situations. Track longitudinal data (probably just from the LA Unified School District because of data access challenges) to measure histories of doubling up, frequent address changes, and literal homelessness. Use school data to measure outcomes for children doubled up and literally homeless: school change, absenteeism, and graduation rates.
- What adverse events observable within education data could be early intervention points for preventing family homelessness?
Use McKinney-Vento data to examine relationships between adverse events and other negative outcomes such as literal homelessness, sustained doubling up, frequent school changes, and failure to graduate. Use ethnographic research with a sample of families identified by school social workers to understand pathways. Focus on families that are BIPOC. Possibly match McKinney- Vento data to county address records.
- What are the intervention points for providing services to middle and high-school students and their families to prevent youth homelessness?
Use McKinney-Vento and other education data to identify potential intervention points. Match to other data — HMIS, juvenile justice, foster care, employment, post-secondary education data — to the extent possible. One product of the research strategy is to identify data gaps and develop proposals to fill them.
- What interventions can be effective in preventing family homelessness and preventing youth who experience homelessness with their families from experiencing unaccompanied youth homelessness?
- What makes it possible for youth who experience homelessness with their families to achieve stability?
- How can interventions effectively serve families and youth who are BIPOC and youth who are LGBTQ?
Conduct retrospective interviews with formerly homeless TAY (identified by transitional housing programs?), followed by ethnographic work that follows youth over time to learn how they achieve stability (identified by school social workers?). Focus on BIPOC and LGBTQ youth.
Fund and evaluate a demonstration that provides services to help families stabilize their housing and services to support positive youth development for adolescents with challenges related to housing instability, family conflict, and trauma. Design services for cultural competence for serving BIPOC families and youth.
Research Priority: The Aging Homeless Population
Need for Research to Inform Policy
Numbers of people experiencing homelessness for the first time after late middle age are increasing, and little is known about how to identify people at risk and design prevention strategies, including disproportionate levels of risk for BIPOC. Traditional PSH may not have the services and supports needed to address the physical and cognitive impairments of high-needs elderly people experiencing homelessness. Supportive housing models for older people need to be developed. Conversely, some elderly people at risk of homelessness may not need the intensive psycho-social services typical of PSH to maintain housing stability. Interventions appropriate for them also need to be developed.
- How do service needs and acuity vary among people experiencing homelessness for the first time and people who have experienced repeated or long-term patterns of homelessness, before reaching late middle age?
- What are the needs of long-term residents of PSH who have aged in place?
Use HMIS data matched to data from healthcare, income support, and other systems to develop typologies of older people experiencing homelessness. Focus on identifying risk among older people who are BIPOC. Conduct longitudinal studies of older people at apparent risk of homelessness to identify support systems that can prevent homelessness.
- Which systems serving elderly people can be used to identify people over 55 at high risk of experiencing homelessness so they can be targeted for prevention services?
Environmental scan and possibly data mining to identify programs such as Meals on Wheels and other programs funded through Older Americans Act that could be used to screen for risk of homelessness. Explore whether churches and other institutions serving communities of color could serve as focal points for screening. Other possibilities include GA/GR population above a certain age or people filing unemployment insurance claims for the first time when over 50 or 55.
- What interventions are effective for preventing older people from falling into homelessness?
Develop screening tools that are appropriate for older people that specifically account for how age affects their level of vulnerability. Once systems have been identified and screening tools developed, test interventions to help elderly people maintain housing stability — for example, helping them qualify for SSI/SSDI and for community-based programs funded by Medi-Cal or Medicare.
Evaluate “light touch” interventions either by randomizing people to programs with excess demand or by comparing outcomes for people just above and below the eligibility line.
- What interventions are effective for serving high needs elderly people who are experiencing homelessness?
Evaluate the effectiveness of community-based programs for elderly people who meet nursing home eligibility criteria (e.g., PACE) for maintaining housing stability and preventing homelessness. Include a focus on effectiveness for BIPOC.
Evaluate the effectiveness of the AB210 cross-sector collaboration that encourages case conferencing and permits sharing of confidential information for resolving the homelessness of high-needs elderly people. Include a focus on effectiveness for BIPOC.
Research Priority: Higher and Lower Acuity Unsheltered People Experiencing Homelessness
Need for Research to Inform Policy
Not all people experiencing unsheltered homelessness need permanent supportive housing (PSH), but little is known about the relative sizes of higher and lower acuity unsheltered populations. Los Angeles has an urgent need to better understand unsheltered homelessness to support cost-effective solutions to house people on the street or in encampments and reduce the cost burden on communities and on the capacity of the homeless services and other public systems.
Strong evidence from New York City and Canada shows that PSH that follows a Housing First philosophy is effective for preventing people with serious mental illness (and co-occurring substance use disorders) from returning to homelessness. However, not all PSH follows a Housing First philosophy, and models of PSH vary widely in Los Angeles. More needs to be known about the effectiveness of different PSH models that are being implemented, including which models are less successful.
Even without a precise estimate of the size of the need for PSH in Los Angeles, evidence from the coordinated entry system is that the current supply is inadequate. Research is also needed to overcome barriers to siting PSH in Los Angeles neighborhoods.
Higher and Lower Acuity Unsheltered People Experiencing Homelessness Priority Questions and Research Strategies
- How do the levels of need and preferences for type of interventions vary across the population of unsheltered people?
Use administrative data on street outreach in HMIS and in the PIT demographic survey to begin to categorize levels of need across the population of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness. Fill gaps in what can be known from administrative data with interviews with outreach workers and in-depth interviews with encampment residents. Continue telephone-based longitudinal surveys of unsheltered homeless people. Focus on how preferences vary across communities, including Latinx and immigrant communities.
- How can resources for preventing and ending homelessness be distributed more equitably across LA populations?
- What have communities across the US done to overcome inequitable distribution of resources?
Explore the strengths and weaknesses of alternatives to targeting based on racial/ ethnic identity: geographic targeting, targeting to communitybased organizations, targeted outreach, changes to program design. Conduct an environmental scan through key informant interviews to identify promising practices in different communities (for example, changes to VISPDAT in Austin) followed by interviews with staff implementing those changes.
This might be a rapid turn-around study to inform allocation and use of American Rescue Plan and CARES Act resources.
- What housing and services interventions are effective in returning lower acuity unsheltered people experiencing homelessness to housing stability?
Evaluate the effectiveness of market-rate shared housing, sanctioned encampments, navigation centers, rapid re-housing, and long-term housing subsidies such as Emergency Housing Vouchers. Focus on effectiveness for unsheltered people who are BIPOC.
- What models of PSH are common in Los Angeles?
- How do they differ in the type of housing; low vs. high barriers to entry; type of services offered; honoring consumer choice in accepting services; and moving on strategies for those who no longer need or want intensive services?
Using LAHSA’s database as a sampling frame, select a sample of PSH with different providers and sources of funding. Conduct interviews with coordinated entry staff, program staff (including front-line staff), and funders and visit PSH properties and units to observe housing configurations and service provision.
- How do needs vary among people prioritized for PSH by coordinated entry or provider organizations?
- Which clients are referred to which models of PSH? How does this differ by race and ethnicity?
- What role does consumer choice play?
- What are the implications for racial equity of the system for matching clients prioritized for PSH to program models?
Use coordinated entry data to analyze types and levels of need and demographic characteristics of people prioritized for PSH. Use categorizations of PSH models and HMIS data to track which groups of people became residents of which types of PSH. Conduct qualitative interviews with a sample of people prioritized for PSH, including those who became residents of different types of PSH and those who were not successful at obtaining PSH.
- How effective are different models of PSH in supporting the housing stability of high-needs PSH residents?
- How effective are different models of PSH in enhancing the quality of life of residents?
- What models of program delivery can overcome practices that limit the effectiveness of programs serving BIPOC experiencing homelessness.
Conduct an impact evaluation of different models of PSH. Use the coordinated entry system to randomly assign people prioritized for PSH to different program models. The sample size should be large enough for separate analysis of effectiveness for PSH residents who are BIPOC.
Alternative: Study the impacts of one or more PSH models by considering people who just missed the VISPDAT threshold for PSH as a comparison group.
Create and test formal models for culturally-specific approaches to providing case management and services for BIPOC in PSH, including training and monitoring of case managers based on principles of cultural competence and client-led implementation.
Evaluate how the implementation of Emergency Housing Vouchers in LA takes race equity into account. Measure outcomes for BIPOC. Possibly compare to outcomes for other populations and to outcomes for other vouchers. Use administrative data from the LA area housing authorities. Include qualitative interviews with BIPOC referred (and not referred) from coordinated entry.
- What is the effect of PSH on the neighborhoods in which it is located?
- Does PSH increase crime? Lower property values?
Econometric study of the effect of PSH, using databases on rents, property values, and crime data to compare neighborhoods (block groups?) with and without PSH (PSH projects or multiple scattered-site PSH units). Use census data to match block groups with and without PSH. Consider interviews with neighbors to learn their assessment of PSH and the practices that increase their acceptance of high needs formerly homeless people as neighbors.
Research Priority: Stemming Inflow Into Homelessness
Need for Research to Inform Policy
Research that compares rates of homelessness across U.S. cities and metropolitan areas shows that low levels of housing affordability and inadequate levels of rental assistance go far towards explaining why Los Angeles has high rates of homelessness. Additional research to build political will for rental assistance is needed. However, addressing the affordable housing crisis in Los Angeles will take many years, even with additional federal and state resources for affordable housing and efforts to reduce regulatory barriers to developing and subdividing the housing stock. Meanwhile, better understanding of the sources of immediate inflow into homelessness, especially among BIPOC, could help guide prevention strategies.
See the questions on inflow and prevention under the following topics in this Research Agenda: families and youth and the aging homeless population. Additional questions are noted below.
- How extensive is the disproportionate representation of BIPOC among people who become homeless 1) after leaving incarceration, 2) after leaving foster care, 3) using General Assistance/General Relief?
Match data from those systems to HMIS data to measure entry into sheltered homelessness (and unsheltered homelessness if outreach data can be used).
- To what extent are job loss and eviction from housing triggering events for homelessness?
- Why are Black women evicted at disproportionate rates, and how often does that lead to homelessness?
- Could the unemployment insurance system and eviction courts be used to screen for targeting homeless prevention?
Link HMIS data, including outreach data, to UI claims data and eviction court data to determine the extent to which new UI claimants and renters in eviction court become homeless after various periods of time. Assess the demographic and other characteristics of those most likely to become homeless, including a focus on BIPOC, and develop screening tools.
- How effective are interventions to prevent homelessness among BIPOC leaving incarceration, leaving foster care and receiving General Assistance/General Relief?
Measure the outcomes of ODR programs for preventing homelessness of people reentering from jail, focusing on racial/ethnic differences. Document the program model through interviews with program staff and participants. Assess whether the program is sufficiently mature to warrant an impact evaluation and whether such an evaluation that uses random assignment is feasible.
Measure the outcomes of interventions targeted to youth leaving foster care, focusing on racial/ethnic differences. Document the program model through interviews with program staff and participants. Assess whether an impact evaluation is feasible. [Note: need to know more about such interventions in LA].
Look for interventions targeted to the GA/GR population and assess whether they can be evaluated.
- How effective are the prevention programs funded by A1 and A5 in stemming the increase of homelessness?
Conduct an impact study that randomly assigns people screened into A1/A5 programs to receiving the prevention services or placed in a control group. (New outreach efforts for those programs are expected to create excess demand, making random assignment feasible). Interview caseworkers and clients to document the intervention. Create a large enough sample for separate analysis of effectiveness for BIPOC. Use HMIS data to compare entry into the homeless services system. May require client surveys to adequately measure unsheltered homelessness.
- How effective are “problem solving” interventions for people who do not quality for A1/A5 prevention?
Impact study that randomly assigns people screened out of A1/A5 programs to “problem solving” interventions (lighter-touch assistance). Interview caseworkers and clients to document the intervention. Create a large enough sample for separate analysis of effectiveness for BIPOC. Use HMIS data to compare entry into the homeless services system. May require client surveys to adequately measure unsheltered homelessness.
- Do housing market factors continue to explain the variation in levels of homelessness across U.S. cities and metropolitan areas?
Econometric modeling of the relationship between housing market factors (rent levels, vacancy rates, numbers of units of housing assistance compared to poverty population) and rates of homelessness. (Use PIT data from January 2020 because of COVID disruptions of 2021 PIT count.)