Background and Purpose
Homelessness has reached epidemic levels in the United States with over half a million people homeless on a given night and ending homelessness is now a “grand challenge” for the field of social work. Permanent supportive housing (PSH), an evidence-based approach that combines intensive wraparound supports and non–time-limited affordable housing, has been widely adopted as a best practice for addressing this large-scale social problem. However, demand for PSH greatly outstrips supply. Moving On initiatives (MOIs) offer a promising approach for opening up PSH supply by transitioning formerly homeless individuals from these intensive housing and supports to mainstream affordable housing when and if they are able to move on from this support. Research indicates that transitions from care are a potentially challenging time for formerly homeless individuals with complex needs which can result in recidivism back into homelessness. Much research has been done on the incidence and nature of involuntary exits from PSH. But there is far less empirical work on the nature, predictors, and long-term outcomes of voluntary transitions from PSH.
This qualitative study examines how individuals voluntarily leaving permanent supportive housing (PSH) through a Moving On initiative experience the transition from PSH services to mainstream housing. MOI participants (N = 25) were purposively sampled across five supportive housing agencies. A modified grounded theory approach was used to analyze semi-structured, post-move interviews.
Participants described the transition from PSH as a process that involved gaining freedom from negative aspects of the PSH environment and a stagnation in services, adjusting to a new environment and the loss of familiar supports, taking on new responsibilities of self-advocacy and managing new financial burdens, and feeling empowered to move on to next steps, which ultimately led to achievement of independence. Various contextual conditions, including PSH- and postmove housing type, influenced participants’ experience of this process.
Conclusions and Implications
For individuals leaving PSH, moving to mainstream housing can be a freeing and empowering process. Yet, initial fears described in the concept of “coming into the unknown,” coupled with the findings on postmove challenges of handling new expenses and adjusting to the losses of familiar people and places, suggest that some movers may need more robust transitional and preparatory services to support them during this process. Participants also described breaking free from challenges related to negative aspects of the PSH service environment, primarily in congregate settings, which speaks to the debate in the literature on the merits of congregate versus scatter-site PSH. Findings from this study offer valuable knowledge for the implementation of future MOIs and for identifying potential supports and strategies aimed at lessening the challenges associated with this transition.