Data Points: The Family Options Study

written by Martena Reed
July 10, 2013

Why all the buzz about rapid rehousing? It’s helping to end homelessness, that’s why. With ongoing questions about whether rapid rehousing works and for whom, we are making it our business to spread the word about rapid rehousing successes. Earlier blog posts have focused on the effectiveness of rapid rehousing in Georgia and in Washington State.

I recently read a report by Abt Associates describing the findings from the early implementation of the Family Options Study. The report mainly focuses on study design, housing intervention descriptions, and characteristics of families in the study. The impacts of four types of housing interventions—rapid rehousing, project-based transitional housing, permanent housing subsidies, and emergency shelter—on homeless families’ housing stability (long-term and short-term), wellbeing and self-sufficiency, and family preservation are mostly the focus of the study.

This study will provide us with tons of information about families housing and other needs. After enrolling in a program, families were administered a survey focused on demographics and barriers to housing stability. Families are also interviewed every six months to track housing situations, family composition, and contact information; and families will be administered an 18 month follow-up survey to get more information on housing needs, education, family preservation, mental and physical health, and substance abuse. This study will also help us to learn how effective transitional housing, rapid rehousing, and housing subsidies are when compared to each other and when compared to emergency shelter.

You might be wondering, “Why is this important if we don’t know families’ outcomes yet?” Well, this report paints a picture of the families prior to entering housing and shares real challenges to housing homeless families:

  • Participating programs often did not have available slots for eligible families. About half of families screened for the study were unable to access at least one intervention due to lack of available slots.
  • Program eligibility criteria were barriers for more than a quarter of families. Families were frequently screened ineligible for transitional housing based on family size, income or employment requirements, or family composition. Families were less likely to be screened ineligible for rapid rehousing.

The final report on the Family Options Study will be available in 2014 and will present families outcomes and comparisons of the three interventions and usual care. The coming report will add to the evidence on rapid rehousing in communities across the U.S. and possibly provide greater evidence that rapid rehousing helps to end homelessness.

The author of this blog post, Martena Reed, is the new Research Associate at the Alliance’s Homelessness Research Institute. Reed has evaluation experience in the areas of mental health and homelessness. Prior to joining the Alliance, she worked at Westat on multiple evaluations of programs for homeless families and on a university-county mental health agency collaboration project where she primarily worked with the agency to enhance its quality improvement efforts, including developing and piloting an instrument to assess organizational capacity to provide mental health consumers with integrated care. She received her Master of Social Work with a focus in policy analysis and evaluation from University of Michigan.