Preventing homelessness – a research experiment

“Prevention is key.” That is the claim made by many doctors when researching a variety of diseases. Although being homeless is definitely not a disease, prevention is still an important strategy when working towards ending this critical circumstance in our society.

Assistance programs do exist to help prevent families and individuals from ever becoming homeless. But, how can we evaluate the effectiveness of these programs?

New York City has developed their own study to determine just that. The city’s Department of Homeless Services says the study is important so they can determine whether their program, Homebase, has helped those for which it was created. The department’s website says the Homebase program offers job training, emergency rental assistance, family or tenant/landlord mediation, etc., to individuals and families.

According to an article in the New York Times, this study involves monitoring 400 households that sought Homebase help between June and August 2010 (Note: the city’s website cites June to September). Two hundred were given the program’s services, and 200 were not. Those denied services would not be able to receive assistance from the program for two years. Instead, they were given the names of other agencies that could assist them.

An article in the New York Daily News reported that both groups in the study will be tracked by researchers through their social security numbers to see how they utilize city services. The researchers will be able to see who in the study needed shelter, public assistance, foster care, etc.

Understandably, the experiment has sparked controversy and has attracted several critics. Many have said this study is unethical, cruel, callous, etc. Some have even wondered why this trial is necessary, considering the program was touted “highly successful” in the Mayor’s Management Report just a few months ago.

Professor Dennis P. Culhane, a consultant working on the study, said in the New York Times article that “people were routinely denied Homebase help anyway, and that the study was merely reorganizing who ended up in that pool.” Apparently, 5,500 households receive full Homebase help each year, and an additional 1,500 are denied assistance because the money has run out.

We have read both stances and want to know – what do you think?

Do you agree with the critics who say these at-risk families and individuals should not be treated as an experiment?


Do you think this study is an effective way to analyze a program in order to benefit more people in the future?

Feel free to share your opinion in the comment section below.