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Studying the Costs of Homelessness Midstream Lessons from a National Cost Study. Jill Khadduri National Alliance to End Homelessness Annual Conference, July 2007. Why Study Costs? Several Possible Purposes. Show costs of homelessness to mainstream systems

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Studying the costs of homelessness midstream lessons from a national cost study

Studying the Costs of HomelessnessMidstream Lessons from a National Cost Study

Jill Khadduri

National Alliance to End Homelessness

Annual Conference, July 2007

Why study costs several possible purposes
Why Study Costs? Several Possible Purposes

  • Show costs of homelessness to mainstream systems

    • Net cost (or savings) from ending homelessness

    • Potential for cost offsets to particular systems

  • Show societal costs of homelessness

    • Economic loss to businesses, neighborhoods

    • Economic loss from loss of earnings potential

  • Compare efficiency of different programs (or approaches) to serving similar homeless people

  • Compare costs of a program (or approach) to its outcomes: cost/effectiveness study

NAEH Conference, July 2007

Need to decide based on purpose of study
Need to decide (based on purpose of study)

  • Costs to whom?

    • A single funder?

    • Multiple funders?

    • Homeless people themselves?

    • Relatives, friends, neighbors?

  • Costs of what?

    • A single program?

    • An “approach”: multiple programs that operate at the same time or sequentially?

NAEH Conference, July 2007

Abt study of costs of homelessness for hud
Abt Study of Costs of Homelessness for HUD

  • Purposes

    • Compare costs of different approaches to serving homeless people (individuals and families)

    • Measure costs to mainstream systems before, during, and after homelessness

  • Not a cost effectiveness study—not measuring outcomes

  • Not a study of societal economic costs of homelessness

  • Is developing methods that can be used in studies with a variety of purposes

NAEH Conference, July 2007

Abt study measures costs of approaches not individual programs
Abt Study Measures Costs of Approaches, Not Individual Programs

  • Uses HMIS data to find “pathways” clients take through the homeless services system and to count their units of service

  • Measures costs of all programs for homeless people used during the pathway by multiplying units of service (from HMIS) by unit costs (from program budgets)

  • Requires a well-populated HMIS for the study period

    • Most HMIS cannot do this for 2004 or 2005

    • But HMIS are building fast

NAEH Conference, July 2007

Example for a particular client
Example for a Particular Client

Central Intake

for Singles =




for Singles =




for Singles =


PSH for Singles =


Central Intake

1 intake



30 nights

30 x $2 = $60


90 nights

90 x $3 = $180

Total client costs





NAEH Conference, July 2007

Pathway for each client is based on a typology of programs
Pathway for Each Client is based on a Typology of Programs

  • Typology is needed

    • So can infer costs of other, similar programs from costs of programs for which data collection is possible

    • So can describe the pathway in way that makes sense to policy audience

  • Goes beyond emergency, transitional, permanent supportive:—e.g., separate categories for scattered-site, shared rooms, private apartments and/or different intensity of services

  • Each typology is tailored to the homeless services system in the study community

NAEH Conference, July 2007

Unit costs of homeless programs
Unit Costs of Homeless Programs

  • For residential programs, unit costs include:

    • Costs of operating the housing or shelter

    • Cost of acquiring/developing the housing or shelter

    • Costs of services provided by the program

    • Overhead or administrative costs

  • For residential programs, the unit of service is a bed night or unit night

  • For services only programs, unit costs vary by type of program: e.g., cost per day, cost per service encounter

NAEH Conference, July 2007

Cost collection instruments for homeless programs
Cost Collection Instruments for Homeless Programs

  • Interviews for information needed to understand costs: which clients? what services? what partnerships? what type of housing?

  • Cost collection spreadsheets to record information from program financial statements and ensure all costs are included; e.g.,

    • Services provided by private funding

    • In-kind contributions and donated labor

    • All overhead costs, not just administrative costs chargeable to particular programs

NAEH Conference, July 2007

Capital costs of residential programs
Capital costs of residential programs

  • Cost collection approaches for residential costs that do not appear on annual financial statements and budgets

    • One-time acquisition, rehab, construction costs

      • Development pro formas (when they exist)

      • Less formal information from interviews, file cabinets

    • Value of donated space

      • Challenging to collect

      • May not be needed if purpose of study does not require costs to all funders

      • But governments may donate space—is this a cost?

NAEH Conference, July 2007

Costs of services
Costs of Services

  • Which services costs to include as costs of residential program?

    • Is it part of the residential program or a “mainstream” service?

    • Do people get it because they are clients of this program?

  • How to measure costs of services for homeless people that are not linked to a residential program?

    • Utilization from program records or from HMIS

    • Need to learn program’s approach to defining a unit of utilization (e.g., an appointment, a period of service) and measuring its cost.

NAEH Conference, July 2007

Cost collection approaches for mainstream
Cost Collection Approaches for Mainstream

  • Basic approach is to match HMIS client information to collection systems of mainstream programs

  • Objective is to apply unit costs to the period before, during, and after homelessness.

    • How to do this depends on the mainstream data—how the program defines a unit of service and measures its cost

  • Requires data sharing agreements to protect privacy and security of client information

    • Takes time

    • Takes political will—interest in the study

    • May be easier for a local study than for national researchers

NAEH Conference, July 2007