What Works to Fight Youth Homelessness? We Don’t Know Much, Review Finds

youth homelessness

A comprehensive new review of programs and practices aimed at tackling youth homelessness did not identify a silver bullet but rather suggested some promising areas for further study — and a crying need for more and better evidence of what works.

Chapin Hall, a child welfare research center at the University of Chicago, said its review of the literature identified several programs and practices that produced positive results for kids who were either homeless or at risk of becoming so. But taken all together, nothing jumped out to the researchers as anything approaching a comprehensive solution. 

“We identified few rigorous evaluations of interventions to prevent and address youth homelessness, and few studies included long-term follow-up assessments of outcomes,” the authors wrote in an article in the September issue of Children and Youth Services Review under Chapin Hall’s Voices of Youth Count program. “As such, the evidence for what does and what does not work should be considered emerging and suggestive. 

“Much more investment is needed in rigorous evaluation of these interventions to inform more conclusive policy and practice decisions about which interventions to employ for particular outcomes, populations and contexts.”

Lead author Matthew Morton said that, given the limitations of the findings, the best use of the review, titled “Interventions for youth homelessness: A systematic review of effectiveness studies,” is for other researchers to use it as a” first-stop resource.”

The authors said the lack of firm findings does not suggest that policymakers should wait to implement interventions because there is some evidence to back up what people are already doing. Rather, the key is to do the research that allows services to be better targeted and more effective as more is learned.

Highlights:

  • A small number of studies showed reductions in youth homelessness. 
  • A few evaluations showed effectiveness in preventing homelessness. 
  • Most evaluations measured counseling and short-term well-being outcomes.
  • We need more rigorous evidence on shelter, housing, and outreach models.
  • There is little evidence on program effects for specific subpopulations (e.g., according to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity) or contexts (e.g., rural).

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