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Permanent Supportive Housing Holds Potential for Improving Health of People Experiencing Homelessness, but Further Research on Effectiveness Is Needed, Including Studies On ‘Housing Sensitive’ Health Conditions
July 11, 2018
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Permanent Supportive Housing Holds Potential for Improving Health of People Experiencing Homelessness, but Further Research on Effectiveness Is Needed, Including Studies On ‘Housing Sensitive’ Health Conditions
WASHINGTON – A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine examines evidence on whether providing permanent supportive housing (PSH) – a combination of stable housing and supportive services -- to individuals who are experiencing homelessness improves their health. PSH holds potential for improving the health outcomes of persons experiencing homelessness, and there is evidence that it improves outcomes among individuals with HIV/AIDS, the report says. However, evidence of its impact on other health conditions is lacking, largely because of multiple limitations in the research conducted so far. The report recommends that high priority be given to studies aimed at identifying “housing-sensitive conditions” -- health conditions whose course and medical management are strongly influenced by stable housing.
“Homelessness is not good for health. Housing is an important determinant for health in general, and we believe that stable housing has an especially important impact on the ability to care for certain conditions and on the health of people who have them,” said Kenneth W. Kizer, chair of the committee that wrote the report, and a distinguished professor and director of the Institute for Population Health Improvement at the University of California, Davis. “More and better research is needed to help identify those housing-sensitive conditions.”
The committee’s 18-month study focused particularly on persons experiencing chronic homelessness. In 2017 about 87,000 people in the U.S. were considered chronically homeless. Persons who are chronically homeless are at higher risk for multiple types of infectious diseases, serious traumatic injuries, death due to exposure to extreme heat or cold, violence, and death due to chronic alcoholism and drug overdoses, among other health problems.
While a number of programs have been developed to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness, this report focuses on one specific type of intervention, permanent supportive housing (PSH), which provides housing along with voluntary comprehensive services such as mental health care, medical services, and development of skills for daily life tasks. PSH programs are supported by the U.S. departments of Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs, as well as numerous nonprofit and philanthropic organizations.
The report observes that studies ranging up to two years have shown PSH to be effective in maintaining housing stability for most people experiencing chronic homelessness, indicating that it is possible to reduce chronic homelessness. However, the report found that there is a substantial and ongoing unmet need for PSH and a shortfall in the funding to provide it, among other problems. The report urges HHS and HUD to work with nonprofit and philanthropic organizations and state and local governments to increase the supply of PSH.
“The evidence shows that reducing chronic homelessness is a solvable problem, given sufficient political will and a commitment of adequate resources,” said Kizer. “We hope this report will stimulate the action, including additional research, that is needed to move the field forward and advance efforts to eliminate chronic homelessness and improve health in this country.”
The committee found many limitations in the existing research base -- including inconsistent use of definitions of PSH, limited follow-up periods for studies, and data systems not designed to integrate data on homelessness and health -- that precluded strong conclusions about the impacts of PSH on health. “We were surprised and disappointed to find so many limitations in the research that has been done to date on permanent supportive housing and health outcomes,” said Kizer. “An interagency examination of research and policy on PSH is needed. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, should convene subject matter experts to assess how research and policy could be used to facilitate access to PSH and ensure the availability of needed support services, including access to health care.”
One high-priority area for research should be longitudinal studies of more than two years in duration aimed at determining which health conditions, or combinations of conditions, are especially sensitive to housing or its absence. Studies showing that housing improves health outcomes in individuals with HIV/AIDS who are homeless could serve as a basis for research into other conditions whose outcomes are likely affected by housing.
The report also finds that additional research is needed in analyzing the cost-effectiveness of permanent supportive housing in improving health outcomes, and in determining the types of supportive services provided as part of PSH and the costs associated with them.
A number of policy and program barriers exist to bringing PSH and other housing models to scale to meet the needs of those experiencing chronic homelessness, the report says. Funding streams and policy regulations for PSH are siloed and often impose substantive restrictions on how funds may be used. This lack of coordination complicates efforts to combine funds from different sources and efficiently use available funding. The report recommends that HUD and HHS review their programs and policies for PSH with the goal of maximizing flexibility and the coordinated use of funding streams for supportive services, health-related care, housing-related services, the capital costs of housing, and operating funds such as Housing Choice Vouchers.
The study was sponsored by the Conrad Hilton Foundation, California Health Care Foundation, Melville Charitable Trust, Kresge Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Blue Shield of California Foundation, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and Elsevier. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine.  The National Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.  For more information, visit http://national-academies.org.  Contacts:  Sara Frueh, Media Relations Officer Joshua Blatt, Media Associate Office of News and Public Information 202-334-2138; e-mail news@nas.edu Social Media: Follow us on Twitter: @theNASEM  Follow us on Instagram: @theNASEM Follow us on Facebook: @NationalAcademies Copies of Permanent Supportive Housing: Evaluating the Evidence for Improving Health Outcomes Among People Experiencing Chronic Homelessness are available at www.nap.edu or by calling 202-334-3313  or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).
 
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THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES OF SCIENCES, ENGINEERING, AND MEDICINE
 
Policy and Global Affairs Division
Science and Technology for Sustainability Program
and
Health and Medicine Division
Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice
 
Committee on an Evaluation of Permanent Supportive Housing Programs for Homeless Individuals
 
Kenneth Kizer (chair) Distinguished Professor School of Medicine and Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, and Director Institute for Population Health Improvement UC Davis Health University of California Davis 
Barbara Brush Carol J. and F. Edward Lake Term Clinical Professor in Population Health Department of Health Behavior and Biological Sciences School of Nursing University of Michigan Ann Arbor
Seiji Hayashi Director of Medicine Human Diagnosis Project Washington, D.C.
Stephen Hwang Director Centre for Urban Health Solutions St. Michael’s Hospital, and Professor of Medicine and Chair in Housing, Homelessness, and Health University of Toronto Toronto
Mitchell Katz President and Chief Executive Officer NYC Health + Hospitals New York City
Mahasin Mujahid Chancellor's Professor of Public Health and Associate Professor of Epidemiology School of Public Health University of California Berkeley 
James O’Connell President Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, and Assistant Professor of Medicine Harvard Medical School Boston
Barbara Samuels Managing Attorney Fair Housing Project American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland Baltimore
Marybeth Shinn Professor and Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair Department of Human and Organizational Development Peabody College of Education and Human Development Vanderbilt University Nashville, Tenn.
Ping Wang Seigle Family Distinguished Professor of Arts and Sciences Department of Economics Washington University St. Louis
Suzanne Wenzel Richard and Ann Thor Professor in Urban Social Development and Chair Department of Adult Mental Health and Wellness Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work University of Southern California Los Angeles
 
STAFF
Marilyn Baker Study Director
Member, National Academy of Medicine.
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