What are 3 Washington counties doing to keep families off the streets?

Evaluating a Washington State initiative to end family homelessness

3 Washington counties keep families off the streets


The Homeless Families Systems Initiative is intended to reform homeless service systems in 3 counties in Washington State. Its goal is to reduce

  • Time families spend homeless
  • Returns to homelessness through a focus on getting families into housing as soon as possible

Westat is examining the role of systems change in these 3 counties in improving families’ residential stability and well-being.


We are examining how systems are changing and how they are finding alternatives to families entering the system, or matching them to assistance to get them back into permanent housing quickly. 

We are also examining

  • Whether race and ethnicity affect families’ access to and outcomes in housing
  • Costs of serving a family after systems reform

We are using a rich set of mixed methods, including cohort family impact study design in which we are tracking all families for 18 months and a subset of families for 30 months.


All 3 systems have shifted from “one size fits all” to offering a range of housing assistance.

Findings indicate that a “housing first” approach has led to greater numbers of families having quicker access to housing. This, in turn, leads to more days in permanent housing for families in the 18 months after entering the system despite a tightening housing market. Families do not return at any higher rate than families prior to the systems changing. Some families do experience, however, time unsheltered after systems reform, especially while waiting for housing.

Despite people of color being disproportionately affected by homelessness, no differences were found in outcomes for families.

Evaluation findings are highlighted in a white paper, A Decade of Innovation: Lessons from the Puget Sound Family Homelessness Initiative (PDF).

View Westat’s presentation on YouTube: Overview of the Family Homelessness Initiative


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