The Dynamics of Homelessness and U.S. Policy Responses

Coming Home to Primary Care April Presentation Title Slide Thumbnail

Persons with serious mental illnesses are more likely than others to experience homelessness. Homelessness policies in the U.S. have evolved as research has informed us about the dynamics of homelessness. Federal policies reflect research showing that a relatively small number of people who experience homelessness remain homeless for long periods of time, often because of disabilities that make it difficult to exit without structured support and housing (Permanent Supportive Housing). Also, federal efforts to address “crisis homelessness” have been deployed, providing assistance through “rapid rehousing” programs to prevent long-term homelessness. The initiative to end veteran homelessness combined these two approaches and led to a 50% reduction in homelessness.

This presentation summarizes the intersection of these research and policy efforts which greatly affect the need for comprehensive housing and support services for persons with serious mental illnesses. As a result of this seminar, attendees will learn:

  • Homelessness is characterized by two primary dynamics: crisis homelessness and chronic homelessness;
  • Crisis homelessness can be effectively addressed by providing emergency cash, case management and relocation assistance, with rent supports;
  • Permanent supportive housing can successfully address chronic homelessness and is cost-neutral for many populations, research shows;
  • Three federal programs – the Chronic Homelessness Initiative, the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP), and the campaign to end veteran homelessness – established new and more robust policies to support these research-informed approaches;
  • Homelessness assistance programs do not prevent homelessness, and rising rates of unsheltered homelessness and the aging of the adult homeless population are creating new challenges for policymakers to address.



Dennis Culhane PortraitDennis Culhane, PhD, is the Dana and Andrew Stone Professor of Social Policy at the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. Culhane is a nationally recognized social science researcher with primary expertise in the field of homelessness. From July 2009 to June 2018 he served as Director of Research at the National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He is a leader in the integration of administrative data for research and directs Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP), an initiative that promotes the development of integrated data systems by state and local governments for policy analysis and systems reform. 

His homelessness work has positioned him as an early innovator in the use of administrative data for research and policy analysis, particularly for populations and program impacts that are difficult to assess and track. Culhane’s work has resulted in federal legislation requiring all cities and states to develop administrative data systems for tracking homeless services in order to receive HUD funding. His work has also been instrumental in a national shift in how cities address chronic homelessness and family homelessness. Culhane’s current research utilizes linked administrative data to better understand and respond to the emerging crisis of aging homelessness. Recently, this work was featured in The New York Times Magazine article, Elderly and Homeless: America’s Next Housing Crisis.


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