The Difference Stable Housing Makes for Homeless Families with Disabilities

The Difference Stable Housing Makes for Homeless Families with Disabilities
Zachary S. Glendening, Erin McCauley, Marybeth Shinn, Scott R. Brown
Disability and Health Journal
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About 20 percent of adults in sheltered homeless families have a disability, compared with 9 percent of all US adults, yet few studies have addressed the intersection of disability and housing instability. A recent study explored the relationship between disabilities and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)/Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) income that homeless families reported when they entered emergency shelters, as well as later outcomes, such as housing stability, self-sufficiency, and food insecurity. It also examined how housing interventions affect SSI/SSDI income receipt.

The original sample included 2,282 families in 12 communities who were enrolled in a one-week stay in an emergency shelter and then randomly assigned to receive referrals for long-term housing subsidies, short-term rapid re-housing subsidies, project-based transitional housing, or usual care (nothing beyond emergency shelter). This study included only families who participated in the follow-up survey 20 months later, or 81 percent of the original sample. 92.4 percent of respondents were female, and a third of the families reported a disability (including physical, emotional, or mental health conditions). The study found that access to SSI/SSDI increased when families were offered long-term housing subsidies and that receipt of SSI/SSDI predicted fewer returns to emergency shelter and greater income despite less work.

Key findings

  • At shelter entry, 34.1 percent of respondents reported some disability in their family, 9.2 percent reported a nonrespondent adult with a disability, and 19.9 percent reported a child younger than 16 with a disability. Sixteen percent of respondents reported a disability in their family that limited the respondent’s ability to work.
  • After 20 months, SSI/SSDI coverage increased nearly 10 percent. Upon shelter entry, 27.9 percent of respondents reporting a family disability received SSI/SSDI. At the follow-up, coverage was up to 36.9 percent.
  • Families receiving SSI/SSDI income at shelter entry reported annual family incomes $3,000 to $4,000 higher at follow-up than those who did not receive those benefits.
  • Respondents with a personal disability that limited their ability to work had annual family incomes $900 less than those without.
  • Assignment to offers of long-term housing subsidies more than doubled the odds of receiving disability income. Assignment to short-term rapid re-housing subsidies or transitional housing did not.

Policy implications

  • Policies should increase access to disability income to reduce time spent in emergency shelters. Expansion of the SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery program could achieve this goal.
  • When SSI/SSDI is not enough, policymakers can expand the Housing Choice Voucher program to increase access to SSI/SSDI income and reduce rent burden. Long-term housing subsides coupled with SSI/SSDI could improve public health.

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