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

About this Evaluation

Homelessness across Los Angeles County

Since 2010, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has been working to address 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 investments in solutions to chronic homelessness. In September 2011, the Foundation contracted with Abt Associates to evaluate the Initiative, with the goal of answering the overarching question: Is the Chronic Homelessness Initiative an effective strategy to end and prevent chronic homelessness in Los Angeles (LA) County?

Over the past decade, elected officials, governmental agencies, and community organizations throughout the City and County of Los Angeles have increasingly coordinated their efforts to implement strategies to address and reduce homelessness. In November 2016 and March 2017, voters in the region passed two significant, dedicated funding measures—Proposition HHH and Measure H—that have increased resources to reduce and prevent homelessness across Los Angeles County. In January 2018, the County saw its first decrease in chronic homelessness since 2013. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), joint powers authority created by the City and County of Los Angeles, – the number of households experiencing chronic homelessness decreased from 17,204 in January 2017 to 14,075 in January 2018 – an 18 percent decrease1. Community stakeholders hope to continue to see decreases in people experiencing chronic homelessness as funding continues to be infused into the community and solutions are scaled to meet the need.

However, the demand for affordable housing in Los Angeles continues to outpace supply. Over the years, the cost for housing in Los Angeles has increased at a much higher rate than residents’ median incomes. Between 2011 and 2017, the median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles County increased by 67 percent (from $1,200 to $2,000) while median annual household income increase by just 23 percent (from $52,280 to $64,300)2. As a result, one in three Los Angeles renters spend at least half of his or her income on housing3. A study by Zillow Research estimated that 2,000 Los Angeles residents would be pushed into homelessness by a 5 percent increase in rent4. Therefore, even though the community passed two measures to dramatically increase dedicated funding towards homelessness, the lack of affordable housing threatens efforts to end homelessness and raises the likelihood of increased inflow into homelessness.

About the Chronic Homelessness Initiative

Between 2011 and 2015, in what is now known as Phase I, the Chronic Homelessness Initiative focused on six strategic goals adopted by the Foundation’s Board of Directors. By the end of Phase I, the Foundation had met or exceeded each of those goals. Detailed information about the Foundation’s Phase I goals can be found in the Evaluation’s 2016 Annual Report.

At the end of 2015, the Board of Directors approved Phase II of the Chronic Homelessness Initiative (2016-2020). Whereas the Initiative’s Phase I goals were tied to the Foundation’s actions and investments, the goals outlined in Phase II are tied to the community’s progress in ending chronic homelessness. The operational definition of “chronic homelessness” has also evolved over time. During Phase I, Los Angeles aligned its definition of chronic homelessness with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD): a person with a substantial history of homelessness and a disabling condition that impairs their ability to live independently. Over time, Los Angeles—and the Foundation—has expanded its focus to include a broader range of vulnerable people experiencing homelessness. The community focus is on people who score high on the Vulnerability Index–Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool (VI-SPDAT), which is intended to assess the level of a person’s need, regardless of whether he or she already has long history of experiencing homelessness. Although the Phase II evaluation focuses on the work of the community in prioritizing and housing a vulnerable population defined in this somewhat broader way, reducing the count of people who meet HUD’s more narrow chronic homelessness definition remains the ultimate measure of success.

Exhibit 1. Theory of Change for the Chronic Homelessness Initiative Phase II


The Foundation’s Program Strategy for Phase II of the Chronic Homelessness Initiative defines goals in four areas that the Foundation believes are drivers of reducing chronic homelessness. Exhibit 1 displays the “theory of change” for Phase II of the Chronic Homelessness Initiative. As identified during the first year of Phase II, the identified drivers of reducing chronic homelessness – political will, scaling up resources, a countywide prioritization system, and understanding inflow – need to work together and are dependent on each other in order for the community and Foundation to reach the goal of ending chronic homelessness.

  1. Political Will : Leadership is engaged Countywide and within subregions of the county in alignment with the agreed-upon community goals.
    • 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 sufficient to meet the defined need have been dedicated to implement the community plan.
    • Goal: Leverage development funding to create additional PSH inventory.
    • Goal: Secure as many new subsidies or subsidized units as needed to meet the publicly accepted community placement goal.
    • Goal: Secure as many new service commitments as needed to meet the publicly accepted 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.
    • 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 disabilities5.

Evaluation Approachb

As the Foundation’s Measurement, Evaluation, and Learning partner for the Chronic Homelessness Initiative, Abt Associates assesses and examines the Foundation’s progress in meeting its strategic goals.

The evaluation team uses a formative evaluation approach, which provides ongoing learning and feedback to the Foundation and community stakeholders to assist them in meeting their identified goals. (The 2017 Annual Report provides more detail on the approach and methodology being used to evaluate Phase II of the Chronic Homelessness Initiative.)

The Initiative’s Phase II evaluation effort is designed to measure both the community’s efforts and progress and the Foundation’s role and influence in supporting these efforts to end chronic homelessnessc.

Indicators of Community Progress

At the beginning of Phase II of the Chronic Homelessness Initiative, the evaluation team worked with the Foundation to develop indicators of community progress, which are outlined in Exhibit 2. These are intended to deepen and clarify the theory of change and provide markers of progress over time in areas the evaluation team and the Foundation determined would be required in order to achieve the overall goals of the Initiative. In some cases, these indicators are more specific or push beyond goals that the community or Foundation specifically adopted (as indicated in footnotes).

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 housing development, matching, and placement processes.
  • Sustainability: Key stakeholders have funding adequate to meet the need, and the responsibilities for carrying out the strategies are allocated to the agencies best able to sustain programs and maximize their impact6.

At the beginning of each chapter, this report provides the evaluation team’s rating of the community’s progress against each indicator during the 2017 calendar year. The ratings applied are: (1) Rapid Progress, meaning progress against the 5-year goal was achieved faster than expected, (2) Suitable Progress, meaning progress against the 5-year goal was on par with expectations, or (3) Limited Progress, meaning that the community is unlikely to achieve the goal within the 5-year timeframe at the current pace.

Indicators of the Foundation’s Contribution to Community Progress

At the same time, the evaluation team assesses indicators of the Foundation’s contribution to community progress in two areas:

  • Direct engagement with critical levers 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 to fund programs that work intentionally to understand root causes and upstream barriers and working to strengthen the systems that aim to reduce those barriers.

Each year, the evaluation team provides a rating of the Foundation’s contribution against each indicator. The ratings applied are:

  • Strong Impact: The Foundation clearly articulated goals and strategies to contribute to the goals and executed on the strategies on par with expectations for a one-year period.
  • Limited Impact: The Foundation articulated goals and strategies to contribute to the goals, but the results were not achieved as expected for the reporting period.

Exhibit 2: Detailed Theory of Change for the Chronic Homelessness Initiative Phase II


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