Breaking Barriers: A Rapid Rehousing and Employment Pilot Program for Adults on Probation in Los Angeles County

Evaluation Report

by Sarah B. Hunter, Adam Scherling, Melissa Francisca Felician, Sangita M. Baxi, Matthew Cefalu

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Research Questions

  1. How does the Breaking Barriers program operate? What are the key implementation facilitators and barriers?
  2. Who is served by the program? Are there participant characteristics that influence program participation? What are the primary causes of program exits?
  3. Do participants change their status in terms of employment, income, and housing stability during the program?
  4. What are the recidivism rates of program participants?
  5. Do people working on the implementation of Breaking Barriers have a shared view of the program goals?
  6. What factors supported and hindered the implementation of Breaking Barriers?
  7. What are the useful lessons learned from the implementation of Breaking Barriers?

Many individuals on probation in Los Angeles County face challenges with housing and employment, placing them at risk for further involvement with the criminal justice system. To address the needs of this population, Los Angeles County piloted a program called Breaking Barriers to provide adults on probation with a time-limited rental housing subsidy and housing retention services coupled with case management and employment supports. The primary goals of the Breaking Barriers pilot program were to (1) reduce recidivism, (2) improve participants' housing stability, and (3) improve employment incomes sufficiently for individuals to take over their own rental payments by the end of the program period.

This report presents feedback from formative and summative evaluations that were conducted to help provide early findings from this innovative housing-employment initiative. Among the findings, for example, the program successfully housed more than 80 percent of participants, despite the challenges regarding the lack of affordable housing. Researchers also found that most participants did not achieve great gains in employment and associated income during the two-year program period. Each day of housing was associated with a 25-cent increase in the participants' contribution to rent. However, participants who had been in the program for two years were contributing on average only 19 percent of the total rental amount. For participants who received the full Breaking Barriers intervention (i.e., housing, case management, and employment services), the felony reconviction rate was 13 percent, which is lower than the rate among individuals with prior felonies in California (greater than 20 percent).

Key Findings

Breaking Barriers met many of its goals within the first year of implementation

  • Placing an emphasis early on communication across partners, using the experience of the selected partners, and providing a client-focused program with a one-stop shop for housing, case management, and employment services were key to the program's implementation success.
  • Stakeholders mentioned concerns about external circumstances, such as operating in a large, dispersed region that lacks affordable housing options and an employment program based out of one location.

Most participants did not achieve great gains in employment and associated income during the two-year program period

  • The program successfully housed more than 80 percent of participants, despite the challenges regarding the lack of affordable housing in Los Angeles County.
  • It appeared that the program did a better job at serving older, non-Hispanic populations in terms of obtaining housing, and men were more likely to be employed than women. Also, being young and white appeared to be associated with an increased risk of having a felony reconviction.
  • A little more than half of participants (56 percent) were employed at some point during the program. Of those employed, they worked an average of 31 hours per week and earned $12 per hour.
  • For participants who received the full Breaking Barriers intervention (i.e., housing, case management, and employment services), the felony reconviction rate was 13 percent, which is lower than the rate among individuals with prior felonies in California (more than 20 percent).

Recommendations

  • Program directors should seek more information to better understand how the program can improve employment and income status. There are many possible barriers to employment for program participants beyond the issue of housing stability, including a lack of employment experience; a lack of employable skills; discrimination because of criminal history, race/ethnicity, or gender; and a lack of available child care.
  • Program planners might want to tailor the program to better meet the individual needs of participants. They may also want to examine the investment needed to assist participants in gaining employment with higher compensation amounts and expand the opportunities available for participants to gain a better compensated skill set.
  • Follow-ups would be worthwhile to find out what contributed to the success with the few participants who were able to find jobs that enabled them to increase their incomes so that they no longer needed a rental subsidy.
  • Implementers might want to follow up with individuals who have not been able to find employment to identify the key barriers preventing them from becoming employed.
  • Stakeholders should meet with participants who have been incarcerated to find out what precipitated the offense and how the program could have addressed their needs differently.
  • Using what is learned from these follow-ups, determine whether the program should adjust its eligibility criteria or otherwise adapt to better fit the needs of clients with a variety of experiences and resources.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Program Overview

  • Chapter Three

    Evaluation Design

  • Chapter Four

    Findings

  • Chapter Five

    Key Findings, Recommendations, and Limitations

  • Appendix A

    Stakeholder Interview Protocol

  • Appendix B

    Technical Appendix

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was Sponsored by Brilliant Corners in partnerships with Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and the Los Angeles County Departments of Health Services and Probation and conducted by the Justice Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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