A study released in June by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania explores the relationship between community investment in permanent supportive housing (PSH) and chronic homelessness. PSH programs provide permanent subsidized housing along with ongoing supportive services. To assess the effectiveness of PSH programs, researchers conducted a longitudinal study using data from 372 Continua of Care (CoC) between 2007 and 2012. According to the study, increasing investment in PSH units resulted in a decrease in chronic homelessness over time.
Each year of the study period, data on the number of chronically homeless persons per 10,000 adults was collected from each CoC area using annual point-in-time (PIT) homelessness counts from HUD. Community investment in PSH was measured as the number of PSH units designated for individuals per 10,000 adults in each CoC area for each year of the study period. The study controlled for variables that could influence homelessness rates, including economic conditions, demographic characteristics, and the availability of emergency shelters. For example, researchers controlled for varying housing market conditions using HUD Fair Market Rent (FMR) data.
The data indicate a statistically significant reduction in the number of chronically homeless people as communities invest in additional PSH units. This relationship is more pronounced over time. On average among the communities studied between 2007 and 2012, the mean number of PSH beds rose by 57% while the mean rates of chronic homelessness decreased 35%.
When controlling for shelter availability and community characteristics, the study predicts that an increase of one PSH unit per 10,000 adults can be associated with a 2% decrease in the unsheltered rate of chronically homeless people in the initial year, with a stronger effect on decreasing homelessness over time.
There are several limitations to the study. First, the study relied on HUD PIT data, which may undercount the number of chronically homeless individuals. Because PIT counts are conducted on a single night each year, chronically homeless people who may have temporarily housed on the day of the count are not included in the tabulations of the homeless population. Future studies using new methods to measure annual estimates of chronic homelessness may increase accuracy. In addition, the study only examined individuals, not chronically homeless families.
The study findings are consistent with studies at the individual level, which find PSH to be an effective approach to addressing chronic homelessness. Further research is needed to determine the best community-level strategies to target more PSH units to individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.
The study, “The Relationship Between Community Investment in Permanent Supportive Housing and Chronic Homelessness,” by Thomas Byrne, Jamison Fargo, Ann Elizabeth Montgomery, Ellen Munley, and Dennis Culhane, was published in Social Service Review 88.2 (2014) and can be downloaded from: http://works.bepress.com/dennis_culhane/140