Prevention Targeting 101


Solutions Brief | December 14, 2011

Files: PDF | 150 KB | 7 pages

The following is a short excerpt of this seven page brief. To read the whole brief, please download the document by using the link at the top of this page.

How to Target
Use Data on Households in Emergency Shelter to Target Prevention Assistance
Communities can improve their ability to prevent homeless episodes by using the characteristics of their sheltered population as the criteria for determining if a household should receive prevention assistance. If the goal of prevention assistance is to prevent people from losing their housing and needing to enter shelter, it follows that homeless assistance systems should be targeting people that have the same profile as people who have entered shelter in the past. Usually, a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) or similar data collection system can provide all the data that a community needs. Some factors to look at include:

  • Household income
  • Disabilities in the household Criminal records Past evictions Pregnancy Benefits received (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, etc.) Number of and length of previous homeless episodes Living situation prior to coming to the homeless assistance system Employment status Household size and membership (presence of children, their ages, etc.)


Without using shelter data in selecting prevention assistance recipients, communities may run a much higher risk of inadvertently serving people who would never have become homeless in the first place, limiting the resources available to households that truly need them. The graphs in Figure 1 below illustrate this point by comparing data on prior living situations for households served by HPRP prevention assistance and households entering shelter in a community that participated in the Center for Capacity Building’s Performance Improvement Clinic. The differences between these groups in terms of prior residence are typical for many communities the Alliance has worked with that have not used shelter data in their targeting strategy; most prevention assistance ended up going to households coming from their own unsubsidized housing, even though most people entering shelter were coming from a doubled up situation with family or friends.

Figure 1: Prior Living Situations for Singles and Families
Source: Center for Capacity Building Performance Improvement Clinic data


Discrepancies are also typical in factors other than prior living situation. For example, in another city the Alliance worked with, there was a $1,000 difference in monthly income between households receiving prevention assistance funds and households in shelter. When analyzing its prevention efforts in this way, Hennepin County, MN, found that 63 percent of families in their shelter system had been homeless before, while only 36 percent of families receiving prevention assistance had been. They also found that while 33 percent of sheltered families had a head of household under the age of 22, only 1 percent of families receiving prevention assistance did. It is obvious in these cases that the households entering shelter – the ones who likely needed prevention assistance the most – and the people actually receiving prevention assistance were often quite different, and that the households needing prevention assistance the most had many more housing barriers than the households receiving it.

Although providers may have concerns about a high-barrier household’s ability to retain their housing after being assisted, as the Alliance describes in the brief, What is 'sustainable' housing cost burden? Implications for HPRP, only about 10 percent of impoverished people end up becoming homeless over the course of a year. Providers must focus on identifying and serving the small subset of households who are truly on the immediate edge of homelessness in order to maximize the effectiveness of prevention funds. To further improve the chances of success for the households served, prevention programs should consider offering services to help households maximize whatever income they have, including linking them with additional benefits they qualify for and referring them to education and employment programs.

Prioritize Households with the Most Imminent and Intense Housing Crises
Targeting closer to a household’s anticipated separation from housing increases the chances they will actually need financial assistance from the homeless assistance system in order to stay out of shelter. The more time a household has until their housing situation falls apart, the more likely it is they will find a workable solution for their current situation that does not require the homeless assistance system to intervene. For this reason, households that have come seeking emergency shelter but may still be in their own housing situation are often good candidates for receiving prevention assistance. Other factors, including oral confirmation from current roommates/leaseholders that the person in question must leave their housing and has nowhere else to go, are also useful in determining how likely it is the household will need assistance. At the same time, an eviction notice on its own is not close enough to homelessness for targeting purposes, as many people may still be able to find other resources to help them resolve the situation before they are forced to leave their unit.