Saturday, July 18, 2015


There are complicated areas, where research ends up contradicting and flying in the face of common sense. The Freakonomics books, podcasts etc. are great examples of this. This always makes news too, since man bites dog is news, while dog bites man is not.

Then there is the issue of homelessness. I am surely not the first one to observe that though research is important, it ends up backing up common sense, almost always, so much so, that it leaves you saying to yourself and others, “Duh!” Homelessness is a result of poverty? Duh! Kids that grow up homeless are more likely to be homeless as adults. Really?! We can end homelessness by (wait for it…) housing people. Who’d have thunk it?!

The importance of research in the area of homelessness is not to tell us something we don’t know. It is to remind of what we do know, prod us to stop flogging dead horses, and get on with delivering solutions that really work. Daniel Patrick Moynihan may have said that you are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own set of facts, but we all know that today that seldom holds true. We need to be reminded of what the data indicates, so can get on with finishing the job of ending homelessness, instead of just managing it.

This study reported last week by the Seattle Times’ Caitlin Moran is a perfect example of this. The title is clearly in the dog bites man category, “Study finds housing vouchers best way to keep kids in same school.” The subtitle won’t make you fall off your seat either, “Students who change schools are likely to fall behind academically, and helping families get stable housing can prevent that.”

In the introduction to the study itself Katherine M. O’Regan, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development & Research, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, says, “This report documents outcomes at 18 months, presenting striking evidence of the power of offering a permanent subsidy to a homeless family. Families who were offered a housing voucher experienced significant reductions in subsequent homelessness, mobility, child separations, adult psychological distress, experiences of intimate partner violence, school mobility among children, and food insecurity at 18 months. Moreover, the benefits of the voucher intervention were achieved at a comparable cost to rapid re-housing and emergency shelter and at a lower cost than transitional housing.”

To summarize the study, one word, “Duh!”

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