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HUD report says housing vouchers best type of assistance

WASHINGTON (AP) — The most reliable method in the fight to end homelessness is housing vouchers, a Department of Housing and Urban Development report released Tuesday found.

The study examined homeless families in emergency shelters in 12 U.S. cities to find out how they responded to different forms of help designed to help them exit homelessness. After 18 months, the families offered a housing choice voucher were less likely to re-enter homelessness or experience housing instability, the report said.

Jennifer Ho, a HUD senior adviser on housing and services, said the vouchers help reduce overall homelessness. “Sometimes we’ve thought of homeless families as needing a bunch of services to do better, but what we’ve found is that they need housing,” she said.

The study gave families four options: housing vouchers, which are known as the “Section 8 voucher program,” to help pay for housing that they find in the private market; rapid re-housing, which helps families pay their rent in the short-term; transitional housing, which combines up to two years of housing with services to assist families; and usual care, which provides temporary housing without many of the aforementioned services.

According to the report, families with vouchers experienced reduced psychological distress, domestic violence and food insecurity. The children in families with vouchers were also less likely to be separated from their parents and experienced reduced school mobility. Additionally, the HUD study reported that vouchers cost the same or even less than other forms of assistance.

Nan Roman, the president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, questioned HUD’s characterization of the study. She said the voucher program should be classified differently because the other intervention options are more short-term solutions to homelessness.

Roman said that while the voucher program is the most effective, it’s more costly than the HUD report suggests. “The voucher is not comparable to the crisis interventions, which do work, but not as long-term options,” she said.

Ho said the voucher program costs more than rapid re-housing, but that comparatively, the long-term efficacy of the voucher program is what’s important.

Funding cuts have reduced the number of families receiving housing vouchers, with agencies assisting 100,000 fewer families by June 2014, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “If we want to make an impact on this problem we need Congress to invest in a way that can address homelessness,” Ho said.

The number of families with children experiencing homelessness has declined 15 percent since 2010. The number of unsheltered families fell 53 percent during that same period, according to HUD.

HUD plans to continue to follow the families for at least three years and will report on 36-month outcomes in 2017.

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