Abstract for:Promoting Child and Family Stability through Homeless Services

Families with children comprise one-third of the U.S. homeless population (Henry, Watt, Rosenthal, & Shivji, 2017). Homelessness exposes children to unstable living environments that threaten healthy development (Bassuk et al., 2015; Buckner, 2008). Despite concerted federal efforts to end family homelessness by 2020, rates have remained largely unchanged over the past decade (Henry et al., 2017; U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, 2015). This community-based system dynamics study 1) Explores drivers of stagnant rates of homeless service use among families with children, and 2) Elicits and tests interventions to promote rapid, sustainable return to stable housing. Key informant interviews and group model building sessions with homeless service providers and clients generate insights into the processes underlying patterns of service use that reinforce child vulnerability. Simulations test interventions to improve system performance. Results indicate elements of services have counterintuitive impacts on performance. Crowding erodes client empowerment, leading to longer stays and contributing to crowding. Capacity constraints balance total families in services, but compound unmet need by limiting access. Interventions that emphasize prevention and socioemotional supports offer promise for alleviating bottlenecks, and point to opportunities for future research. Improving efficiency of homeless services can reduce children’s exposure to conditions that threaten healthy development.