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Improving Coordination to Reduce Service Gaps and Increase Efficacy in Child and Family Homelessness Policy and Programming

The projectThe national system for preventing and addressing homelessness, known as the Continuum of Care (CoC), is not well understood, and the capacity of these systems to successfully address homelessness has never been evaluated. The Continuums of Care are most often locally-organized groups of actors that receive funding from the federal government to create and carryout solutions to homelessness. To prevent and reduce increasing rates of child and family homelessness, we must understand:

  • How are homeless services governed and funded across the Continuums of Care?
  • What is the capacity of CoCs to prevent child and family homelessness?
  • What governing arrangements are associated with best practices for reducing child and family homelessness?

The process: To answer these questions, this project developed and fielded a survey of federal Continuums of Care from March 2020 to January 2021 to better understand: how they are organized; strengths and weaknesses they face in their task to end homelessness in their jurisdictions; and how they responded to and were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than half of all Continuums of Care responded, which generated a nationally representative sample and represented 47 states.

Results: The survey findings revealed:

  • Most local governments and Continuums of Care don’t work together, or CoCs are not a part of local government. These governance arrangements create challenges when CoCs don’t have the authority necessary to carry out all of their policy tasks and resource constraints where CoCs don’t have access to funding mechanisms they otherwise might.
  • There’s a gap in service capacity for the CoCs across categories or types of homelessness, and there is a clear breakdown in CoCs’ perceived capacity to successfully end homelessness across types of homelessness. Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) and veteran homelessness has the highest capacity, with CoCs reporting the most success to ending these categories of homelessness. CoCs rank their ability to successfully end chronic homelessness, family homelessness, and unaccompanied youth homelessness much lower, with substantial variation across CoCs in their perceived capacity to end these categories of homelessness. Additionally, there is very little political and financial support for single adult homelessness, particularly among those that are chronically homeless and young adult men.
  • CoCs indicated the need for increased coordination or formal integration with government structures depending on their jurisdiction (state or local), in order to improve access to resources and to have the authority or ability to finance, design, and implement policy solutions to end different types of homelessness.
  • The greatest challenges CoCs list in their mission to prevent/end homelessness are capacity issues related to limited funding, housing supply and staffing, challenges working with local government (including regulatory challenges, and policing of homelessness), and opposition from citizens and businesses in their community.

See the related policy recommendations.

Julia Wolfson, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Charley Willison, Cornell University Public Health
Scott L. Greer, U-M School of Public Health