New Study Finds Chicago Homeless Prevention Programs Significantly Reduce Crime
Friday, December 14, 2018 by Communications

For more than a decade, Catholic Charities Homelessness Prevention Call Center (HPCC) – one of the largest in the nation - has responded to more than 375,000 calls providing clients with access to financial assistance and other resources.

Building on a groundbreaking study from 2016 that found that when homeless prevention funds are available, an individual’s chance of becoming homeless within 6 months is reduced by 76 percent. Now, new research reveals not only does funding to homeless prevention services reduce homelessness, but it also reduces criminal behavior.

In significant research published this month in the Journal of Public Economics, researchers linked call center information to arrest records from the Chicago Police Department and found that total arrests fall between 1 and 2 years after the call. For violent crime, fund recipients are 55 percent less likely to be arrested by police, with single individuals driving this decrease. The decline in crime appears to be related, in part, to greater housing stability – access to financial assistance significantly decreases arrests for homelessness-related outdoor crimes such as trespassing.

“We know that when an individual is facing extreme poverty or homelessness they may be pushed into situations they would otherwise never consider,” said Monsignor Michael Boland, President and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago. “We have seen first-hand the transformative power of funding to prevent someone or a family from becoming homeless. On any given night nearly 7,000 people will find themselves homeless in Chicago, which impacts the person beyond having a roof over their head. This study shows how receiving just a small amount of assistance, on average $1,000, can greatly reduce a person’s chances of becoming homeless also reduce the chance of having to carry the burden of an arrest, which can greatly impact a person’s chance of employment and future housing.”

Interestingly, the study also shows that financial assistance leads to an increase in property crime arrests. This increase is evident for family heads, but not single individuals. The increase is mostly due to shoplifting; and the timing of this increase suggests that financial assistance enables some families to take on financial obligations that they are subsequently unable to meet.

The study was conducted by the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities at the University of Notre Dame with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago. This is the second time the impact of emergency financial assistance on homelessness has been rigorously measured and would have not

been possible in any other city in the country. Chicago is the only city in the nation with a unique, collaborative database and call center screening process which made the study of and tracking of callers and funds possible.

The study includes more than 8,500 individuals and families who called the HPCC between 2010 and 2012. Because availability of funding for the financial assistance offered by HPCC varies, the researchers were able to look at the arrest rates of people seeking assistance when funding is available compared to those seeking assistance when no funding is available. The results indicate that policymakers should consider emergency financial assistance as an effective evidence based approach preventing not only homelessness but also crime.

“We are finding that stabilizing one person in the midst of major financial crisis can benefit society as a whole,” said David Phillips, one of the study authors. “Simply by paying someone’s rent for a month until the crisis passes helps not only that person avoid the shelter but also benefits other people who might otherwise be affected if that person’s unstable situation leads to violence.” 

How the Homeless Prevention Call Center Operates

· In Chicago, the Homelessness Prevention Call Center (HPPC) connects those at risk of homelessness with the dozens of local agencies that provide temporary financial assistance to address their needs.

· Funding is received from federal, state and city sources as well as private foundations.

· On any given day, funding may or may not be available. New funds are made available daily and existing finding streams are halted throughout the year.

· The HPCC funding is updated multiple times a day. If a person calls on day and funds are not available, the person may call the next day and funds could be available.

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