A Prevention‐Centered Approach to Homelessness Assistance: A Paradigm Shift?

Prevention, or shutting the “front door” to homelessness, has been often hailed as a necessary component of any strategy to end homelessness (National Alliance to End Homelessness 2000). However, the difficulties inherent to implementing effective prevention initiatives (Shinn, Baumohl & Hopper 2001) has meant that responses to homelessness instead have retained an emphasis on tending to and accommodating those who have already lost their housing. This has led to a situation that Lindblom (1991) warned about nearly twenty years ago, one in which an absence of a prevention‐oriented policy framework would lead to the institutionalization of homelessness. In this paper, we outline a conceptual framework that might guide a transformation to a prevention oriented approach towards homelessness, along with implications for program design and practice, and the need for new data collection standards to support program performance monitoring and evaluation. The recent passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) promises to push mainstream homelessness policy towards prevention, a direction preceded by only a trickle of such efforts in the US. Among this vanguard are some promising approaches to providing prevention‐oriented services. Prevention‐oriented approaches in several European countries have also seen promising results with reducing homelessness, and will be examined. But while these programs have demonstrated the basic elements of effective prevention services, there is much about homelessness prevention that still needs to be understood.

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