Short Moves and Long Stays: Homeless Family Responses to Exogenous Shelter Assignments in New York City


Using an original administrative dataset in the context of a scarcity induced-natural experiment in New York City, I find that families placed in shelters in their neighborhoods of origin remain there considerably longer than those assigned to distant shelters. Locally-placed families also access more public benefits and are more apt to work. A fixed effects model assessing multi-spell families confirms these main results. Complementary instrumental variable and regression discontinuity designs exploiting policy shocks and rules, respectively, suggest difficult-to-place families—such as those that are large, disconnected from services, or from neighborhoods where homelessness is common—are especially sensitive to proximate placements. Better targeting through improved screening at intake can enhance program efficiency. The practice of assigning shelter based on chance vacancies ought to be replaced with a system of evidence-based placements tailored to families’ resources and constraints.

Mike Cassidy
Mike Cassidy
Postdoc in Economics

Mike Cassidy is a postdoc in economics at Princeton University.