America has the largest number of homeless women and children in the industrialized world. It's a depressing statistic exacerbated by a housing crisis that forced thousands of families out onto the street. The stories of the 1.6 million children who experience homelessness every year—like that of Dasani, an 11-year-old homeless child profiled by The New York Times last year—are reminiscent of tales from developing countries or disaster zones.
In 2010, the Obama administration announced a plan to end homelessness among children, youth, and families by 2020—but, predictably, there have been spats over funding and how to best use federal dollars.
Now a rigorous report, the first large-scale experiment ever conducted to test the effectiveness of homelessness interventions for families, might have some clues about how to create meaningful change. It suggests that providing vouchers to the homeless so they can afford permanent, stable housing may be the most effective means of keeping a roof over their heads.
The Family Options Study is a three-year-long evaluation of three types of ways to help homeless families, conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Abt Associates, and Vanderbilt University. It looks at 12 communities in a variety of U.S. cities—including Boston, Denver, Kansas City, Phoenix, and Honolulu—and involves 2,300 homeless families. The findings so far—the study is currently at its midway point—suggest some solutions for reducing homelessness and improving the lives of low-income families, even those who are currently housed.