Abt Associates’ Evaluation of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s Chronic Homelessness Initiative

Over the past 10 years, beginning with the United Way of Greater Los Angeles’ Home For Good Initiative, the Los Angeles (LA) community has come together in new, more ambitious ways to develop and scale programs and cross-sector partnerships dedicated to ending homelessness. Community stakeholders, including the City and County of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), the United Way of Greater Los Angeles Home For Good team, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, community organizations, homeless service providers, and other philanthropic partners have invested in and implemented various strategies to provide housing and supportive services to the region’s most vulnerable residents.

During this period, philanthropic grants and the public funding available at the time supported pockets of innovation that demonstrated effective strategies to respond to the needs of people experiencing chronic homelessness. However, public investment at the scale needed to respond to chronic homelessness across the Los Angeles region was limited until 2016 and 2017, when Los Angeles voters passed two measures—Proposition HHH and Measure H, respectively—that significantly increased the dedicated resources used to end and prevent homelessness within the community.

With this critical funding, the community’s work has been taken to a dramatically different scale. Community stakeholders have come together with shared commitment, both to serve many more people and to work differently within the homeless service system. Stakeholders have worked collaboratively to create a system that reaches out to highly vulnerable people, engages them, and prioritizes them for housing resources and supportive services.  Stakeholders have implemented new homeless assistance models and approaches to systems collaboration.

Though these efforts have shown progress, Los Angeles still faces a homelessness crisis. The January 2019 Point-in-Time Count shows a 12 percent increase of people experiencing homelessness across Los Angeles County and a 17 percent increase of people experiencing chronic homelessness compared to the previous year. This increase is disappointing to community stakeholders and policy makers, but other communities in southern California have seen even larger percentage increases than Los Angeles, as shown in Exhibit 1. Without the investments made in Los Angeles County, the increase in homelessness between 2018 and 2019 might have been even greater.

In 2018, the community made 21,631 permanent housing placements, roughly 4,000 more than the previous year1. However, the high cost of housing and low rental vacancy rates across Los Angeles County will likely continue to increase inflow into homelessness. The State of the Nation’s Housing Report of Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies showed that, in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metro area, approximately 57 percent of renters are “cost burdened” (paying more than 30 percent of their income toward rent), and roughly 30 percent are “severely cost burdened” (paying more than 50 percent of their income toward rent).2 Adults younger than age 25 and those older than age 65 are the two populations who experience the most severe rent burdens3.

Changes in Point-in-Time Counts for Southern California

As the efforts and progress made across Los Angeles County to end and prevent homelessness are assessed, it is important to recognize the macro issues that affect how effective the homeless service system can be at ending and preventing homelessness. While housing and healthcare costs continue to soar in Los Angeles and across the nation, affordable housing production and wages continue to stagnate. Additionally, many people face racial and income discrimination in the housing market, and landlords often discriminate against those who would be paying rent with housing subsidies such as federal housing vouchers. These factors work against the homeless service system, as providers try to find available rental units and place the community’s most vulnerable individuals into stable, permanent housing. Preventing homelessness also becomes increasingly difficult when rental costs continue to increase across Los Angeles County.

These larger trends paint a somber picture, but government agencies, homeless service providers, community organizations, philanthropic partners, and other stakeholders across Los Angeles continue to come together, strategize on solutions, and scale programs and services for people experiencing homelessness and who are at risk of homelessness.  In 2018, stakeholders felt optimism based on the large-scale increases in system resources and the tremendous amount of effort by service providers, while at the same time they understand the crushing reality of the growth in the unsheltered population across Los Angeles County.

About the Chronic Homelessness Initiative

Since 2010, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has been working to end chronic homelessness in Los Angeles through its Chronic Homelessness Initiative. Through this Initiative, the Foundation has made private investments in facilitating system change, strengthening targeted programs, and disseminating knowledge and has worked to garner public support and large-scale public investments in solutions to chronic homelessness.

In September 2011, the Foundation contracted with Abt Associates to evaluate the Initiative, with the goal of answering this overarching question: Is the Chronic Homelessness Initiative an effective strategy to end and prevent chronic homelessness in Los Angeles County?

Theory of Change for the Chronic Homelessness Initiative Phase II

During the first five years of the Initiative, 2011-2015 (now known as Phase I), the Foundation met or exceeded each of its Board-approved goals. Detailed information on the Foundation’s Phase I goals can be found in the Evaluation’s 2016 Annual Report. Upon completion of Phase I, the Foundation’s Board of Directors approved Phase II of the Initiative, 2016-2020.

The goals of Phase II are rooted in the community’s collective progress toward ending chronic homelessness. The Foundation’s Program Strategy for Phase II defines goals in four areas that are identified as drivers to ending chronic homelessness within LA County: (1) Political Will, (2) Scaling Up the Resources, (3) Countywide Prioritization Systems, and (4) Inflow into Chronic Homelessness. Progress is needed in each of these areas, which work in concert with one another to achieve the ultimate goal of ending chronic homelessness. Exhibit 2 displays the “theory of change” for Phase II.

  1. Political Will : Leadership is engaged countywide and within subregions of the County in alignment with agreed-upon community goals.
    1. Goal: Local elected and public officials have committed resources to implement the community plan.
  2. Scaling Up the Resources : Permanent supportive housing (PSH) units and service commitments are sufficient to meet the defined need have been dedicated to implement the community plan.
    1. Goal: Leverage development funding to create additional PSH inventory.
    2. Goal: Secure as many new subsidies or subsidized units as needed to meet the publicly accepted community placement goal.
    3. Goal: Secure as many new service commitments as needed to meet the publicly agreed-upon community placement goal.
  3. Countywide Prioritization Systems : Systems are functioning effectively, and monthly placements of highly vulnerable individuals experiencing chronic homelessness through the prioritization systems are consistent with agreed-upon community goals to end chronic homelessness.
    1. Goal: House as many high-acuity individuals experiencing chronic homelessness in PSH as specified in a publicly accepted community plan.
  4. Inflow into Chronic Homelessness: Strategies are in place within the homeless system and in partnership with mainstream service systems to prevent chronic homelessness for individuals with chronic disabilities.4

Evaluation Approach

As the Foundation’s Measurement, Evaluation, and Learning partner, Abt Associates examines the Foundation’s progress in meeting the goals of Phase II of the Chronic Homelessness Initiative. Using a formative evaluation approach, the Abt evaluation team provides continuous feedback to the Foundation and community stakeholders throughout the year to support them in attaining their goals. For Phase II of the Chronic Homelessness Initiative, the evaluation team measures both the community’s efforts and progress and the Foundation’s role and influence in supporting those efforts to end chronic homelessness.

Indicators of Community Progress

At the beginning of Phase II the evaluation team and the Foundation developed indicators of community progress (shown in Exhibit 3), which are intended to expand and explain the theory of change and provide markers of progress over time. The term community is used to refer to all stakeholders within Los Angeles County—elected officials, government agencies, public and private funders, non-profits, private businesses, residents, and philanthropy. The premise behind the model is that, in order to maximize impact, the community needs to demonstrate progress in each of three indicator areas:

  • Alignment: Key stakeholders have agreed on the parameters of the problem and the most appropriate responses, resources, and strategies necessary to address the problem.
  • Functionality: Key stakeholders have clearly delineated roles and responsibilities, reduced administrative barriers where they are relevant, and implemented efficient processes.
  • Sustainability: Key stakeholders have funding adequate to meet the need, and responsibilities for carrying out the strategies are allocated to the agencies best able to sustain programs and maximize their impact.

At the beginning of each chapter, this report provides the evaluation team’s rating of the community’s progress against each indicator during the 2018 calendar year. The ratings applied are (1) Rapid Progress, meaning the community achieved progress toward Phase II’s five-year goal faster than expected; (2) Suitable Progress, meaning the community’ progress against the five-year goal was on par with expectations; or (3) Limited Progress, meaning that the community is unlikely to achieve the goal within the five-year timeframe at the current pace.

Indicators of the Foundation’s Contribution to Community Progress

In addition to examining community indicators, the evaluation team also evaluates two areas in which the Foundation supports the community’s efforts to end chronic homelessness:

  • Direct engagement with those working to create change in the community. The Foundation focuses on convening stakeholders, educating policymakers, and building partnerships; leveraging and aligning private and public funding to pursue innovation; and learning from successes.
  • Grant-making portfolio that funds programs that work systematically to understand root causes and barriers to progress and work to strengthen the systems that aim to reduce those barriers.

For each of these areas, the evaluation team provides a rating of the Foundation’s contribution for the year. The ratings applied are (1) Strong Impact, meaning the Foundation clearly articulated goals and pursued strategies towards meeting the goals to the extent expected in a one-year period; and (2) Limited Impact, meaning the Foundation articulated goals and strategies to contribute to the goals, but the results were not achieved as expected for the reporting period.

The evaluation team does not expect the Foundation to address all indicators in each initiative area in each year of the evaluation. During some years, the Foundation may focus its efforts within one initiative area to support the community’s efforts to end homelessness and not address other initiative areas. During some years, the Foundation may not need to use its direct engagement or grant-making to support the community’s efforts because another entity is playing that role or because government agencies or community organizations have identified another way for the Foundation to support their efforts.

Phase II Initiative Indicators

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