New findings: Decreased homelessness among women involved in criminal legal system after COVID-19 housing intervention

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Concurrent with  COVID-19 housing interventions to reduce spread of disease, researchers at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, found a reduction in  experiences of homelessness in women involved in the criminal legal system in Alameda County, California. The findings were featured in a recent journal article published in the Journal of Social Distress and Homelessness.

Before March 2020, RTI researchers found that 38% of women in the cohort reported being homeless — a level that was consistent over 2 years. By August 2020, researchers found that only 15% of the cohort was homeless. Study participants were adult women currently or previously sentenced to supervision by the criminal probation system in Alameda County.

“Difficulty obtaining housing is a serious and destabilizing predicament for people involved in the criminal legal system,” said Jennifer Lorvick, DrPH, study author and senior public health scientist at RTI. “The effectiveness of COVID-related public health interventions related to housing, if continued beyond the pandemic, demonstrates the opportunities for public health officials to reduce homelessness, especially for men, women and families involved in the criminal legal systems.”

The study found that through Operation Safer Ground, Alameda County public health leaders undertook a concerted, multisector effort to address the risk of COVID-19 infection among people experiencing homelessness by providing low-threshold, non-congregate emergency housing. Due to the public health crisis, transitional housing programs were feasible to obtain federal, state, and local financial resources and to coordinate work across sectors to increase housing availability for county residents experiencing homelessness.

Read the full study

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