The Difference Stable Housing Makes for Homeless Families with Disabilities
About 20 percent of adults in sheltered homeless families have a disability, compared with 9 percent of all US adults, yet few studies have addressed the intersection of disability and housing instability. A recent study explored the relationship between disabilities and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)/Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) income that homeless families reported when they entered emergency shelters, as well as later outcomes, such as housing stability, self-sufficiency, and food insecurity. It also examined how housing interventions affect SSI/SSDI income receipt.
The original sample included 2,282 families in 12 communities who were enrolled in a one-week stay in an emergency shelter and then randomly assigned to receive referrals for long-term housing subsidies, short-term rapid re-housing subsidies, project-based transitional housing, or usual care (nothing beyond emergency shelter). This study included only families who participated in the follow-up survey 20 months later, or 81 percent of the original sample. 92.4 percent of respondents were female, and a third of the families reported a disability (including physical, emotional, or mental health conditions). The study found that access to SSI/SSDI increased when families were offered long-term housing subsidies and that receipt of SSI/SSDI predicted fewer returns to emergency shelter and greater income despite less work.
- At shelter entry, 34.1 percent of respondents reported some disability in their family, 9.2 percent reported a nonrespondent adult with a disability, and 19.9 percent reported a child younger than 16 with a disability. Sixteen percent of respondents reported a disability in their family that limited the respondent’s ability to work.
- After 20 months, SSI/SSDI coverage increased nearly 10 percent. Upon shelter entry, 27.9 percent of respondents reporting a family disability received SSI/SSDI. At the follow-up, coverage was up to 36.9 percent.
- Families receiving SSI/SSDI income at shelter entry reported annual family incomes $3,000 to $4,000 higher at follow-up than those who did not receive those benefits.
- Respondents with a personal disability that limited their ability to work had annual family incomes $900 less than those without.
- Assignment to offers of long-term housing subsidies more than doubled the odds of receiving disability income. Assignment to short-term rapid re-housing subsidies or transitional housing did not.
- Policies should increase access to disability income to reduce time spent in emergency shelters. Expansion of the SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery program could achieve this goal.
- When SSI/SSDI is not enough, policymakers can expand the Housing Choice Voucher program to increase access to SSI/SSDI income and reduce rent burden. Long-term housing subsides coupled with SSI/SSDI could improve public health.
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