Policymaking and Caseload Dynamics: Homeless Shelters

McAllister, William; Berlin, Gordon

Many social problems can be understood as "conceptual caseloads" (e.g. people in poverty), and actual programmatic caseloads are a major, specific concern for policymakers and public administrators. Thus, a crucial and fairly general concern is how caseloads—whether conceptual or programmatic—can be reduced. To address this concern, officials often fall back on politically or intuitively attractive ideas—preventing people from entering caseloads, for example. Failure to incorporate caseload dynamics, however, may mean prevention and other caseload reduction policies will deliver much less than promised, and may cause caseloads to grow. In this paper, the authors first show how caseload size depends only on the number of entrants to a caseload and the rate at which people leave a caseload. With this framework in mind, they then address two common, seemingly appropriate policy responses: preventing entrants and hastening leaving. However, they show how too little is now known about homeless prevention to pin high hopes on its utility and that some social welfare problems, like homelessness, may be too inhospitable for prevention's logic. The authors then explain how allocating resources to hasten leaving is not as straightforward as policymakers have assumed but rather must recognize caseload dynamics to avoid unintended growth. They conclude by explaining some limits and opportunities in using caseload dynamics for policymaking.


More About This Work

Academic Units
Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy
Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, Columbia University
ISERP Working Papers, 04-04
Published Here
August 18, 2010


August 2004.