How can we better support people transitioning from homelessness to supportive housing?

Despite significant funding for the construction of permanent supportive housing (PSH) in California, the state has continued to struggle with a persistent homelessness crisis. In partnership with a group of housing and service providers, we are working directly with people with lived experience of homelessness to better understand “what works” to successfully transition people to stable housing.

The high cost of housing has long been a critical issue in California, but has become an even more pressing concern in recent years. In 2019, on any given night, more than 150,000 people were unhoused. The pandemic has only exacerbated the crisis; between 2019 and 2022, data suggest that the number of people who are experiencing homelessness increased by more than 16 percent.

The scarcity of affordable housing has exacerbated the issue of homelessness in the Bay Area and across the state. In recent years, the state has directed more investments towards the production of permanent supportive housing (PSH), but less is known about what is required to stabilize a relatively high-needs population. Of particular concern is that funds for operating these properties over the long term–e.g., paying for everything from janitorial expenses and building maintenance, to resident services such as drug and alcohol treatment, mental health supports, and legal counsel–are extremely limited. As a result, housing advocates have expressed concerns that new PSH being built in San Francisco and across California will merely serve to “warehouse” vulnerable populations.

To address gaps in our understanding about the relative efficacy of different models of PSH funding and operations, the Possibility Lab is supporting partnerships between university researchers, public agencies, and private developers, with the goal of promoting data-driven, community-engaged innovations that can directly inform the state’s homelessness policies, and better serve the currently and formerly unhoused individuals in the Bay Area and beyond. Our joint research will map the range of resident service models currently being provided to people living in PSH properties, and assess the impact of those service models on resident outcomes. In addition, we will gather resident-driven metrics to ensure that the services being provided align with residents’ own perspectives on what they want and need.

This project was made possible with funding from the California Community Foundation through the California 100 Initiative.

Our Work