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Findings and Implications of the Family Options Study
Research Brief | July 7, 2015
FINDINGS AND IMPLICATIONS OF THE FAMILY OPTIONS STUDY
An Analysis by the
National Alliance to End Homelessness
The Family Options Study is a randomized control study examining the effectiveness and cost of three crisis interventions (transitional housing, rapid re-housing and usual care) in helping homeless families. It also re-examines the effectiveness of long-term housing subsidies. The Study’s findings on the relative effectiveness of crisis interventions are of particular interest, as housing subsidies are so rarely available to help families that become homeless.
Of the crisis interventions that communities typically have available to help families that become homeless, the Study found that rapid re-housing had by far the lowest cost and was as, if not more, effective than the other crisis interventions. Transitional housing was the most expensive by a considerable magnitude, but it had no better, and in some respects poorer, outcomes compared to the other crisis interventions.
The Study reconfirmed the success of the long-term housing subsidy in ending family homelessness and keeping families housed. Its short-term costs are similar to those of crisis interventions, but its higher long-term costs extend beyond the time frame of this report and therefore were not assessed.
The Study compared the impact of the offer of a specific intervention (as opposed to the impact of enrolling or participating in that intervention). Since families were not required to enroll in their assigned intervention – and often did not -- the impact of the actual interventions is difficult to determine in some instances.
The outcomes of assignment of families to the three crisis interventions are largely similar. This is most likely because the majority of the families ended up receiving usual care.2 In particular, the comparisons of outcomes based on assignment to transitional housing and rapid re-housing are not robust.
The Study compared costs of the actual interventions (not only assignment to the interventions). The Study presents monthly and per episode/per family costs of the interventions.
OVERALL FINDINGS AND POLICY IMPLICATIONS
The Alliance draws the following conclusions from the Study:
THE FAMILY OPTIONS STUDY
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Policy Development and Research commissioned the Family Options Study with the purpose of discovering what housing and service interventions work best for homeless families. Overall, 2,282 families in 12 communities were enrolled in the Study between September 2010 and January 2012. Families were assigned to a specific intervention, but were not required to participate in that intervention. In fact, many families did not enroll in the intervention to which they were assigned. Families that were assigned to an intervention, but did not enroll, were still included in the analysis as part of the group to which they were referred. A table showing Interventions in the Family Options Study, at the end of this Analysis, describes the interventions studied, the number of families assigned to each intervention and the number of families that actually enrolled in the assigned intervention.
The data in this report is based on survey data collected 20 months after random assignment. The survey collected data on five domains, based on what intervention a family had been assigned to. The domains are: housing stability, family preservation, adult well-being, child well-being, and self-sufficiency. Approximately 81 percent of the randomly assigned families participated in the 20-month follow up survey.
INTERVENTIONS IN THE FAMILY OPTIONS STUDY
*Assignment and enrollment data from Table 1 comes from the Family Options Study interim report published March 2013. Enrollment data included in the July 2015 report differ slightly, but not significantly.
1 The effectiveness portion of the Study evaluates family outcomes based on their assignment to a particular intervention, even though the majority of families assigned to rapid re-housing and transitional housing did not end up enrolling in those programs. The cost portion of the Study assesses the cost of the actual intervention.
2 The majority of families in the Study received “usual care” although many were assigned to other interventions. Usual care was the control group: families that did not receive a specific intervention were left on their own to access whatever intervention(s) they could (the options being shelter, transitional housing, rapid re-housing or subsidy). Of the 2,299 families in the Study, 746 were assigned to and received usual care. However, families that were assigned to another specific intervention but did not enroll in that intervention essentially reverted to usual care (i.e., accessed what they could on their own). 751 families entered usual care in this way. Thus, a total of 1,497 families – 65% of all the families in the Study – were actually receiving usual care.