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CPL Research Produces New Homelessness Prevention Screening Tools

Los Angeles, CA, July 20th, 2021 — Amid a growing homelessness crisis, new research from the nonpartisan California Policy Lab will help the Los Angeles Homelessness Services Authority target homelessness prevention services to people who are at the highest risk of becoming homeless. Service providers use Prevention Targeting Tools (PTTs) to connect people at risk of homelessness with services they need. These short surveys assess a person’s risk of becoming homeless and determine eligibility for services such as short-term financial assistance. The researchers produced three new versions of the PTT, which could be given to adults, families, and transition-aged youth who are at risk of homelessness.

Working with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), the researchers conducted an in-depth analysis of the PTTs to understand if they were accurately assessing people’s risk of becoming homeless. The research team also interviewed service providers and people who have experienced homelessness to help inform improvements to the PTTs and how they are administered. Recommendations in the new report are expected to be implemented by LAHSA later this year.

“While Los Angeles is housing more people than ever, the number of people who are becoming homeless is also rising, which is why targeted prevention strategies are so important. These improved targeting tools will help ensure households at highest risk of homelessness are getting the help they need,” explains Janey Rountree, Executive Director of the California Policy Lab and a co-author of the new report. “The recommended changes will also make the tools more user-friendly both for the providers administering them, and for people who are at risk of homelessness.”

“LAHSA is incredibly grateful to the California Policy Lab for this vital research. Our community cannot successfully address homelessness without preventing people from falling into homelessness. We have invested in a robust rehousing system that has brought approximately 65,000 people home over the last three years. Now it is time to make as significant of an investment in homelessness prevention. This research will be critical in reaching that goal,” said Heidi Marston, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Recommended changes to the Prevention Targeting Tools
1. The research team examined whether adding additional risk factors to the tools could help improve the predictive accuracy of the tools. Recent emergency room use and a lack of health insurance were both strongly correlated with risk of future homelessness, and the researchers recommended adding two questions to the PTTs focused on these risk factors.

2. During interviews with services providers and people who had experienced homelessness, both groups cited questions that were either confusing, sensitive or were difficult to answer accurately, such as “How many times have you experienced homelessness over a specific time period?” The team suggested rewording the questions, creating a glossary with uniform definitions, and providing additional training on how to ask sensitive questions.

3. To improve data quality and better support people at risk of homelessness, the researchers recommended centralizing screening for homelessness prevention, providing additional, standardized training on the PTT, ensuring that providers use versions of the PTT that are in languages other than English when needed, and providing additional resources such as a guide to the eviction process.

4. The team also assessed the accuracy of the PTT’s in predicting who was at highest risk of homelessness. They found that putting different weights on certain answers could improve the predictive accuracy of the PTT used for families. More data collection is needed to inform any future reweighting of the tools for adults and families.

The research was funded by the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation and provided at no cost to LAHSA.


The California Policy Lab creates data-driven insights for the public good. Our mission is to partner with California’s state and local governments to generate scientific evidence that solves California’s most urgent issues, including homelessness, poverty, criminal justice reform, and education inequality. We facilitate close working partnerships between policymakers and researchers at the University of California to help evaluate and improve public programs through empirical research and technical assistance.

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