State and Local Efforts to Integrate and Evaluate Homeless Assistance Programs

RCED-99-178: Published: Jun 29, 1999. Publicly Released: Jun 29, 1999.

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Judy A. England Joseph
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO described some notable examples of efforts by states or localities to: (1) link and integrate their homeless assistance programs with mainstream systems; and (2) measure and evaluate outcomes for their homeless assistance programs.

GAO noted that: (1) among the sites GAO visited, there were several notable examples of state and local efforts to link and integrate homeless assistance programs with mainstream systems; (2) in some cases, these linkages are designed to improve homeless people's access to mainstream services; (3) in other cases, efforts are being made to integrate entire systems of care; (4) as part of this effort, King County, Washington, has created the Crisis Triangle Unit--a single place where people can receive treatment and referral through an integrated set of services; (5) in addition, in some communities, mainstream systems are developing policies and programs designed to prevent homelessness, particularly by addressing the discharge practices of institutions that may feed homelessness by releasing people who have no place to go; (6) despite these initiatives, many state and local officials were concerned about the lack of coordination and integration of homeless assistance programs at the federal level, which, they said, adversely affects their efforts at the state and local levels; (7) nationwide, communities are increasingly using outcome measures to manage their homeless assistance programs, thereby focusing less on the types and numbers of activities performed and more on the results achieved; (8) one outcome measure used by a Minnesota program is the number of at-risk families who maintain stable housing; (9) a growing number of communities across the country are also using management information systems to collect uniform data on the use of homeless assistance services as a tool for measuring outcomes and better managing their resources; (10) for example, the Community Shelter Board in Franklin County, Ohio, has developed a management information system that collects uniform data from all of the emergency shelters in the county; (11) this system helps the Community Shelter Board track and measure the outcomes of homeless assistance programs countywide and hold service providers accountable for achieving the desired outcomes; (12) this system also helps the community develop strategies for improving policies and programs to serve homeless people; and (13) in general, homeless assistance providers told GAO that they often lack the resources to conduct comprehensive evaluations of their homeless assistance programs, but they hope that their increased use of data systems and outcome measures will enable them to better evaluate their programs in the future.

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