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					Introduction

        Hamilton Family Center (HFC) is a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization whose

mission is to “break the cycle of homelessness and poverty”1 for families in the San Francisco

Bay Area. Established in 1985, HFC’s range of programs fall into four service areas of which all

emphasize a “Housing-First” approach. The four main service areas include an emergency and

interim shelter for newly homeless families, access to permanent housing via the First Avenues

program, recreational activities and mental health services for children, youth and parents

through Project Potential and asset building services through the Pathways to Technology

program. This evaluation proposal will focus specifically on the eviction prevention services

offered through HFC’s First Avenues program.


        The First Avenues: Housing Solutions for Families program provides financial and home

based support services for families who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless. Initial

funding from the program came from a two-year grant from the Schwab Foundation in 2005 but

continued financial support for First Avenues comes largely from the San Francisco Mayor’s

Office of Housing and private companies and foundations. The goal of the First Avenues

program is to end family2 homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area through the provision of a

comprehensive eviction prevention program, move-in assistance, a rental-subsidy program and

home-based support services. As previously mentioned, this proposal will specifically focus on

the eviction prevention component of the First Avenues program. A comprehensive evaluation

of eviction prevention program outcomes is recommended.




1
 http://hamiltonfamilycenter.org/about-us/
2
 Families are defined by the Hamilton Family Center as “one and two-parent families (including same-sex couples)
with children, pregnant and single women, expectant couples and multi-generational families.” See
http://www.firstavenues.org/about.html
        The goal of the eviction prevention program is to “assist families who are at risk of

eviction due to critical family need and who would be able to retain their housing with the short-

term assistance.”3 In order to achieve this goal, participant families receive short-term financial

assistance to cover current and overdue rent costs, mediation between tenants and landlords and

follow-up assistance designed to help participants maintain stable housing. It is important to

note that the eviction prevention program is a self-proclaimed last resort measure for families

and proof of ineligibility for other local nonprofit programs must be submitted at the time of

application. Furthermore, candidate families must demonstrate a balanced budget or an ability to

pay rent and other expenses with current level of income. Finally, families must reside in San

Francisco with a legal lease in their name and have been served an eviction notice within the last

14 days. Grant amounts generally do not exceed $1000.00 per month for no longer than 12

months in duration.


        Eviction prevention has been identified as a fundamental component towards preventing

and ending homelessness in San Francisco.4 In fact, the United States Department of Housing

and Urban Development (HUD) recently granted the city of San Francisco $8.75 million in

funding as part of their Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program.5 Instead of

distributing these funds directly, the Mayor’s Office of Housing has dispersed monies to local

nonprofits like the Hamilton Family Center. In an effort to evaluate the longer-term impact of

such programs, the MOH has requested a comprehensive evaluation proposal from the authors.

Specifically, the MOH would like to follow-up with past Hamilton Eviction Prevention program

participants. How many are housed one and two years after completion of the program? Have


3
  http://www.firstavenues.org/program.html
4
  http://usmayors.org/bestpractices/homeless/san_francisco_ca.htm
5
  http://www.sanfranciscosentinel.com/?p=35190
income levels increased within families and their has debt-to-income ratio decreased? How many

have experienced subsequent losses of housing and what were the reasons for the loss of

housing? This paper will set forth an evaluation proposal to answer these questions.


Review


          Hamilton Family Center authored an evaluation on First Avenues program activities

administered in fiscal year in 2008 – 2009. The report, available to the public on HFC’s website,

presents information on the 116 families and 58 single adults served by the program in 2008 and

2009 using First Avenue’s internal database. The evaluation identifies two main indicators on

which to judge the performance of the program. The first indicator is “successful program

completion with a sustainable rent-to-income ratio (RTI) where a family pays no more than 60%

of their income towards rent” and the second is “maintaining housing whereby families remained

housed even if they change addresses during or upon completion of the program.”6 37 of the 116

families remain housed six months after completion, two families were no longer housed and

two families had fallen out of touch. 75 families, however, had not yet been contacted at the six-

month follow-up mark. 24 of the 116 families were stable housed at the 12 month mark, two had

lost housing and 90 had not yet been contacted. Average monthly income for families who

received an eviction prevention grant was $1,554 of which $582 was paid towards rent. This

represents a 37% mean rent-to-income ratio.7


          The shortcomings of this evaluation are evident. Nearly 86% of families had not yet been

contacted for their six-month follow-up assessment. As such, it is nearly impossible to speak to

the longer term implications of program participation on clients. This proposal strives to

6
    http://hamiltonfamilycenter.org/wp-content/themes/HamiltonFamilyCenter/images/First-Avenues-FY08091.pdf
7
    Ibid
overcome this shortcoming. If and when this proposal is adopted by relevant stakeholders,

enough time will have passed to allow for the six, twelve and eighteen month follow ups that are

necessary to examine the more far reaching impacts of the program. On a side note, HFC’s

evaluation did include a Housing Assessment Matrix (HAM) tool8 which has provided a useful

template for the authors. The HAM tool seeks to improve the assessment of homeless families

entering the program by screening for low-income housing eligibility and identifying the specific

barriers which may have prevented the family or individual from securing and maintaining a

stable housing situation. The information derived from the HAM tool will likely provide

thorough baseline information which may be of assistance to future program evaluations.


           In a similar study entitled Cycles of Homelessness: Understanding Eviction Prevention

and its Relation to Homelessness, the authors’ outline the best practices of eviction prevention

models for populations at risk of homelessness and/or people who have recently experienced

homelessness. The study profiled and compared the eviction prevention processes in place in

three urban regions of Canada. Among the best practices identified were the provision of

information and advice (referrals for legal aid, etc), conflict resolution and mediation, emergency

financial assistance, third party financial management and legal representation. The study

authors used a set of five criteria to compare eviction prevention systems in each of the three

study areas. The five criteria included effective targeting of clients, use of multiple/holistic

strategies, undertaking research and evaluation, effective orientation of services to a point of

intervention and cost effectiveness. Data was gathered from key informant staff members and

from program literature. Of particular interest is the finding that “success is difficult to define in




8
    The HAM tool can be found in the appendix of this proposal
that preventing an imminent eviction is not always the desired outcome.”9 This statement rings

particularly true for HFC. Although preventing an imminent eviction is a stated and measurable

program goal of First Avenues, the longer term ramifications of program participation have yet

to be measured.


           Another evaluation, authored by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation,

provides an interesting look at the cost effectiveness of eviction prevention programs in Canada.

While the literature review revealed that although there is considerable information available

internationally on the varying forms of eviction prevention programs, there is little empirical

evaluative information.10 Thus, researchers from this government agency compiled an inventory

of 32 Canadian eviction prevention initiatives and then conducted interviews and focus groups

with 32 individuals with a history of eviction. Furthermore, telephone interviews with key

informants from social service agencies or business with an in-depth knowledge about tenant-

landlord relations and reviews and comparisons of four eviction prevention agencies in two

urban Canadian cities. Each agency’s programs were categorized as “high,” “medium” or “low”

in terms of cost and also rated in terms of “reach,” or how many clients were served and how

many retained housing. The study concluded that although the costs of eviction prevention vary

widely, they generally cost far less than the costs of eviction incurred by tenants and landlords.

This study also found, as did the one previously discussed, that more evaluations and more




9
    http://www.halifax.ca/qol/documents/Evictions_FinalHighlightsReport.pdf


10
     http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/odpub/pdf/64906.pdf
thorough evaluations of programs are needed in order to ascertain whether they are achieving

their goals.11


           Shifting now to the conceptual underpinnings of homelessness prevention itself, Shinn,

Baumohl and Hopper12 discuss why programs that use a single characteristic, such as eviction,

are likely to grossly under serve other populations at a higher risk of homelessness. The authors

instead recommend the use of a more sophisticated predictive model for homelessness that might

include factors such as occurrence of childhood abuse or prior substance abuse to aid in program

design. Yet even when such predictive models are used, or are failed to be used, the majority of

evaluations of homelessness prevention programs fail to have a randomized comparison or

control group of individuals who met some of the predicative characteristics but who do not

receive the intervention. What the authors are describing in this article is considered the “gold

standard” of evaluation design because findings of such studies allow plausible assumptions to

be made about the impact of the intervention. These types of rigorously designed studies are

sorely lacking in the current literature. Furthermore, the authors note that “creaming” or rigging

the results of studies by providing assistance to those families most likely to succeed is an all too

occurrence amongst service providers.


           Review of current evaluative literature on eviction prevention programs all seem to share

a common thread; academically rigorous evaluations with a long-term scope are sorely lacking.

Simply put, there is a void in the literature which needs to be addressed.




11
     Ibid.
12
     http://www.asap-spssi.org/pdf/asap011.pdf
Method


        A quasi-experimental time-series design is recommended. A time-series design involves

making a number of observations over a period of time spanning before, during and after

program implementation. The time series data should provide a meaningful clue about the

impact of the eviction prevention program on the lives of participants. The unit of analysis will

be the family or individual program participant. The independent variable is participation in the

eviction prevention program and the dependent variable is whether or not the client remains

housed or becomes homeless. Other variables to be measured involve creation and maintenance

of financial stability and a social support network. Variables will be measured prior to program

implementation during the intake appointment, at the three and six month program duration point

and upon program completion at the six, twelve, eighteen and twenty fourth month mark. The

information will be gathered via survey administered by a Hamilton Family Center staff member

either in person or by phone.


        In order to encourage study participation, especially amongst participants who have

already completed the program, a financial incentive system is recommended. Because non-

response would be detrimental At each follow-up survey session, participants will be given a $5

bill or a $10 gift card.

				
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