Comprehensive Evidence Review of Programs and Practices Addressing Youth Homelessness Can Now Inform Decision Making

In order to end youth homelessness, policymakers, organizations, communities, and funders need evidence about what works and what doesn’t in programming and services. This ensures resources can be targeted to support the most effective solutions for ending youth homelessness. This brief summarizes research-based evidence on the effectiveness of interventions to prevent youth homelessness, reduce its duration and effects, and promote sustainable improvements in youth well-being. It is the eighth in a series of briefs from Voices of Youth Count.

What We Did

This brief presents the results of a systematic evidence review conducted to answer the question “What is the evidence of the effectiveness of programs and practices to prevent youth homelessness and to improve a range of outcomes among youth experiencing homelessness?” Researchers screened 3,937 potentially relevant studies, reviewing the studies to identify the ones that met all of their inclusion criteria: the study involved adolescents or young adults, the study had samples of youth experiencing homelessness or youth homelessness as an outcome, and the study was not conducted in a developing country. Ultimately, researchers included 62 studies that involved youth homelessness, which evaluated 51 programs. They then synthesized a broad base of evidence from the evaluations.

What We Found

Please follow the links in the bullet points below to read an evidence summary about each of the findings.

  • Prevention: The evidence base on youth homelessness programs and practices is small. However, this evidence base shows that youth homelessness is preventable.
  • Family: Family-based interventions show positive results for behavioral health, but we need better evidence on their effects on housing stability and family connections.
  • Shelter and housing: Evaluations of rental assistance and supportive housing programs show promising results. But since these evaluations lack long-term follow-up periods, we do not really know whether youth remain stably housed after the programs.
  • Individual counseling and treatment: These interventions can improve mental health and reduce substance use and sexual risk behaviors among youth experiencing homelessness.
  • Nonhousing case management and support: Most evaluations focus on interventions that address well-being and risk behaviors and show positive results.
  • Economic and employment programs: We have little evidence on interventions to help youth experiencing homelessness achieve better employment outcomes.
  • Outreach and service connection interventions: There is an alarming mismatch between investments in outreach interventions and evaluation of those interventions.

What It Means

This review shows significant growth over the last decade in evaluations of programs and practices to address youth homelessness. A number of these programs and practices have positive effects on a range of youth outcomes. However, there are critical gaps in the evidence of what interventions can most effectively prevent youth homelessness, reduce its duration and effects, and promote sustainable improvements in youth well-being. The following areas have especially limited evidence: prevention, prominent housing models, employment and economic support interventions, interventions tailored to specific subpopulations, outreach interventions, and service delivery models for rural communities. Funders should place greater priority on investing in more and better evaluations to address these knowledge gaps. Organizations and communities can strengthen their leadership by collaborating with researchers and more rigorously evaluating their programs, practices, and innovations.

Recommended Citation
Morton, M. H., Kugley, S., Epstein, R. A., & Farrell, A. F. (2019). Missed opportunities: Evidence on interventions for addressing youth homelessness. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.


Evidence Review Brief