Current Projects

J-PAL North America’s work on homelessness seeks to expand the base of rigorous evidence on strategies to reduce and prevent homelessness and promote housing stability. 

Our staff and network of affiliated researchers work with nonprofits and government agencies to design and implement randomized evaluations to test questions that can best inform the policies and programs helping people find and maintain stable, affordable housing. 

Chicago, Illinois: Targeting Emergency Financial Assistance to Prevent Homelessness
Researchers: Marianne Bertrand, Kelly Hallberg, Winnie van Dijk
Approximately 3,000 families apply for short-term financial assistance through the Homelessness Prevention Call Center (HPCC) in Chicago each year. As little as $1,000 can prevent some households from entering the shelter system and save them from associated diminished outcomes across multiple areas of life. However, effective targeting is critical for the efficient use of limited funds. Researchers from the UChicago Poverty Lab propose to use a two-phase approach to design and rigorously test the implementation of new, data-driven eligibility criteria intended to more efficiently target homelessness prevention funding. The retrospective analysis (Phase I) will seek to assess treatment effect heterogeneity and identify caller characteristics associated with the greatest treatment effect, which we will use to create and test new targeting criteria in an RCT (Phase II). Study findings will help improve the targeting of financial assistance funding to prevent homelessness in Chicago and other cities across the nation.

Franklin County, Ohio: Evaluation of Permanent Supportive Housing for Justice-Involved Frequent Utilizers
Researchers: David Phillips, Jim Sullivan
This project will examine the effect of receiving permanent supportive housing services on housing, health, labor market, and criminal justice outcomes for individuals who repeatedly interact with the criminal justice system. The FUSE (Frequent Users Systems Engagement) Initiative, a new program in Franklin County, OH (Columbus), offers permanent supportive housing (PSH) to individuals with a history of many jail stays. “Frequent utilizers” of the criminal justice system are often affected by one or more adverse conditions that make it difficult to attain stability and increase the likelihood of recidivism. The County, in partnership with implementing partners and the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) at the University of Notre Dame, is conducting a randomized controlled trial to quantify the impact of PSH. The initial, pilot phase of the study will include 84 eligible individuals in the County. The study will track several key outcomes, including housing stability and homelessness, emergency care use, the cost of healthcare services, public benefit usage, and recidivism. This pilot would provide the basis for a larger scale evaluation as the program expands.

King County, Washington: Youth Homelessness Prevention
Researchers: David Phillips, James Sullivan
This project will be the largest randomized control trial of homelessness prevention services to date and will compare two different approaches to homelessness prevention. We will use a lottery to measure the effectiveness of (1) a combined program of progressive case management and flexible financial assistance relative to (2) only flexible financial assistance. This project will be conducted in the context of the Youth and Family Homelessness Prevention Initiative (YFHPI) in King County, Washington, where lawmakers are interested in assessing the effectiveness of the program's case management component. The results of this study will also be informative to policymakers and service providers in other communities that are interested in the most effective means of homelessness prevention. Enrollment began in May of 2018 and will continue until we have enrolled 600 participants. Our primary outcomes will be measures of housing stability including indicators of homelessness and changes in address; secondary outcomes may include family welfare, criminal justice and employment outcomes.

Miami, Florida: Homelessness Prevention Through Eviction Diversion
Researcher: James Greiner
Evictions, both informal and court-ordered, are one of the most common pathways to homelessness, but proven interventions to interrupt this pathway are few.  Two of three rigorous studies completed in this area show that providing a lawyer to a defendant in formal court eviction proceedings results in fewer court ordered evictions.  But there are no corresponding studies regarding whether legal advice provided before the landlord files a formal eviction will result in favorable resolutions for tenants, including improved housing conditions and fewer formal and informal evictions. Is early, low-cost legal assistance an effective, and cost-effective, intervention to improve housing stability?  This study hypothesizes that such is the case and will provide rigorous evidence in partnership with Legal Services of Greater Miami.  With an anticipated study size of 648 people and a treatment including brief legal advice for individuals threatened with informal eviction by landlords refusing to make repairs, we will learn whether so-called “eviction diversion” is a useful tool to divert individuals and families away from a court eviction, to combat homelessness, and to keep people housed longer.

Santa Clara County, California: The Impact of Rapid Re-Housing on Homelessness
Researchers: David Phillips, James Sullivan
Santa Clara County’s Office for Supportive Housing (OSH) is introducing a Rapid Re-Housing program (RRH) for single adults in cooperation with HomeFirst, a local non-profit provider. To measure the program’s success and make decisions about scaling the program up, OSH and HomeFirst have been working with the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) and J-PAL to launch a randomized controlled trial (RCT) evaluation of the program. This evaluation will test the hypothesis that providing RRH to homeless single adults will improve housing stability leading to decreases in homeless shelter entry, housing moves, and hospital visits for program participants. This study will also stratify the random assignment of study participants by the score on the county’s risk tool to explore for whom RRH works best. We will randomly select 360 participants for the program and approximately 360 participants for a control group referred to usual care. Results from this RCT will inform policy decisions to scale up and expand the program in the County of Santa Clara and will be disseminated to policy makers and providers in other regions to inform the design or replication of future housing initiatives.