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Short-Term Financial Assistance Programs Are a Cost-Effective Way to Prevent K–12 Homelessness

The Impact of Homeless Prevention on Residential Instability: Evidence from the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program
Gabriel Piña and Maureen Pirog
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As housing affordability worsens in communities across the country, more families are finding themselves experiencing housing insecurity. The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP) was created to address this crisis and target aid to households at risk of housing instability or who recently became homeless. The $1.5 billion program ran between 2009 and 2012 and mainly provided short-term financial assistance to people at risk of experiencing homelessness or people who had recently become homeless. This study explored how the HPRP has affected residential instability.

Researchers analyzed annual school-district data on homelessness within the K–12 student population from 26 states and 6,679 school districts, starting with data from the years before the HPRP was enacted. School district data have benefits over standard homelessness data because in addition to traditional measures that capture unsheltered homelessness and residence in emergency or transitional shelters, they also capture measures of people living doubled-up or temporarily living in motels or hotels. The authors focused on only the subset of 26 states that started reporting homeless student counts before HPRP started and exploited variations in the location of HPRP providers. They also examine data from the HPRP on provider organizations’ locations and program funding expenditures.

Key findings
  • Availability of HPRP funding in a school district reduced the number of homeless students by 8–12 percent.
  • Increases in unemployment, poverty, and the cost of rent were associated with an increase in homelessness rates.
  • Districts with a higher percentage of renters saw more benefits of homelessness prevention.
  • A year after the end of the program, districts with the HPRP didn’t have significantly different homelessness rates than those without HPRP, suggesting the presence of HPRP was a critical factor in reducing homelessness.
Policy implications
  • Short-term financial assistance programs are the least expensive policy interventions for preventing homelessness, when compared with vouchers, transitional housing, and shelters.
  • Homeless prevention programs can prevent homelessness during the time of the intervention, but the programs might not be able to move a family from a precarious situation to a more stable one.