Homelessness is a fusion policy problem. It is policies and systems that create homelessness and the variety of policies and systems involved is broad. Therefore, to prevent homelessness we need to proper policy approach. Achieving this approach is made easier if we have an evidence-base whereby we can assess various policies. Fortunately, the real world provides a form of natural experiment through comparative analyses if we look both across cities and within cities to see how various approaches impact on rates and experiences of homelessness.

In “The Causes of Homelessness and the Characteristics Associated With High Risk of Homelessness: A Review of Intercity and Intracity Homelessness Data”, professor Deden Rukmana looks at how intercity and intracity data can help us (though he focuses on planners) understand best approaches to preventing homelessness.

Following an extensive review of the literature, here’s what he suggests:

  1. A broad number of intercity factors have been identified, but these are not consistent across studies (ex. rent control, unemployment, mean average temperature, vacancy rates, affordable housing availability, mental health care availability, rent levels, poverty, income segregation, etc.)
  2. Similarly, a whole variety of intracity factors have been identified (ex. race, proportion of single-female headed households, poverty, unemployment, rent income ratio, overcrowding, capacity of addiction services, etc.)
  3. All studies struggle with the quality and accuracy of data given the challenges around homelessness enumeration.
  4. Intercity comparisons yield the most accurate data on understanding policy factors that predict homelessness.
  5. Intracity data can help us understand issues such as race, poverty, foreclosure, and unemployment that tend to have more of an impact at the neighbourhood level than being explanatory measures from city to city.
  6. While intracity data can help us target interventions and supports within cities, intercity data best describe the nature of policy interventions needed.

Ultimately, the 3 most promising policy approaches identified to prevent homelessness are:

• Rent control

• Rental assistance

• Affordable housing policy

This post is part of a bi-weekly blog series by Abe Oudshoorn exploring recent research on homelessness, and what it means for the provision of services to prevent or end homelessness. Read the first blog in the series here.