System Modeling to Address Youth Homelessness in Indianapolis

Upcoming changes to the way in which Continuums of Care (CoCs) report HMIS data to HUD each year will provide communities with new analysis tools. These tools will allow CoCs to develop a much more granular understanding of how homelessness is experienced in their jurisdiction and how their homeless systems operate, in addition to providing information for HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR). To reflect this broader purpose, AHAR reporting will be renamed Longitudinal Systems Analysis (LSA).

This blog is the second in a series on how communities have used HMIS data to support community planning to improve responses to homelessness. In this post, we describe how one city, Indianapolis, used system modeling to develop a vision and approach to address youth homelessness. For an introduction to system modeling, please see the previous post in this series.

Joyce Probst MacAlpine, Abt Associates

Since 2002, the City of Indianapolis has published a Blueprint to End Homelessness that lays out a roadmap for the city’s planned activities to address homelessness over a five-year period. As leaders in the homeless services system started to think about the Blueprint report for 2018 to 2023, they raised a number of questions. To inform the development of strategic goals and priorities, those involved in preparing the report wanted to take a closer look at:

  • Who experiences homelessness in Indianapolis?
  • What types of housing and services are currently available for these individuals and families, and what types of housing and services most effectively serve various populations?
  • For each type of intervention (e.g., rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing, etc.) how many beds or housing units does Indianapolis currently provide? How well does the current distribution address the need, and how many beds or units are needed to effectively end homelessness?

To answer these questions, the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention (CHIP), a local non-profit organization, engaged Abt Associates to conduct a system modeling exercise. The system modeling team worked with local stakeholders to analyze data on current system usage and then developed inventory recommendations for various household types and subpopulations, including veterans, people experiencing chronic homelessness, and families with children.

 What did the system modeling process look like for youth and young adults?

After the initial system modeling exercise was complete, Abt worked closely with CHIP, the Indianapolis Continuum of Care, and other community leaders that were part of a Youth Strategic Planning Committee to engage in additional planning and modeling for unaccompanied youth age 13 to 17, single young adults age 18 to 24, and parenting young adults age 18 to 24 with children of their own. These groups are collectively referred to as youth and young adults, or YYA. This effort included consultation with providers as well as several youth and young adults who had experienced homelessness.

One of the key decisions the group made was to cast a wide net when identifying homeless YYA for planning purposes. The HUD homeless definition encompasses four categories of homelessness. These categories encompass people who are “literally homeless” – those who are staying in a shelter or unsheltered location not meant for human habitation, or leaving an institution after fewer than 90 days after having stayed in a shelter or unsheltered location – as well as those who are at “imminent risk of homelessness,” are doubled-up with friends or family, or are attempting to flee domestic violence. Individuals in each category are eligible for different types and levels of assistance, and stakeholders in Indianapolis decided to include all four definitional categories when estimating the number of YYA in need of assistance and conducting system modeling.

Stakeholders in Indianapolis then estimated the number of YYA who currently experience homelessness each year. In Indianapolis, as in other communities, some of the programs that serve this population are not connected with the homeless services system (e.g., colleges and universities) or do not enter data in the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) (e.g., domestic violence providers). This means that counts from various providers are not de-duplicated and may be rough estimates, depending on the level of record-keeping.

The committee created a map of their desired system, starting with entry points where homeless YYA would be identified (e.g., schools, hospitals, social service providers). Additional categories on the map include points of engagement, such as drop-in centers or street outreach, crisis response assistance, and permanent housing options. In each of these categories, stakeholders identified existing resources (such as transitional housing and shelters), aspirational resources (host homes and new affordable housing to be developed), and resources currently in development (including rapid rehousing).

With this vision of their ideal system, the committee combined programs into pathways that would facilitate a rapid exit to permanent housing. This model included estimates of (a) the percentage of youth and young adults expected to access each pathway, and (b) how long they would stay at each program along the way. These assumptions were “road tested” with youth who had lived experience with homelessness, and organized into an “ideal” system to end homelessness among youth in Indianapolis. (For more detail on steps in the system modeling process, see the first post in this series.)

The graphic map pictured here was designed to be visually appealing to engage youth and young adults, funders, providers, elected officials and other stakeholders.


What was the impact of this exercise?

The system modeling exercise has yielded several benefits for stakeholders in Indianapolis:

  • As a result of this work, Indianapolis is well-positioned to submit strong applications for competitive federal funding programs to address youth homelessness.
  • Stakeholders also have a framework from which to guide the allocation of state funds and engage public and private funders at the local and state levels.
  • The modeling report provides a roadmap for local staff who are working with homeless YYA, providing direction for their work.
  • Local stakeholders can begin to reallocate resources to better meet the needs of YYA in their community or redesign programs to align with the vision of the youth system. In fact, Indianapolis has already reallocated funds from a poorly-performing permanent supportive housing project to provide rapid rehousing.
  • The framework is in place to strengthen work with partners, like the university and community college systems, increase the number of providers entering data in the HMIS, and generate more accurate estimates of YYA homelessness from which to refine the system map and inventory needs.


June 2018