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J-PAL North America partners with local governments to tackle homelessness and reduce incarceration

Selected cities and counties will receive funding and technical support from J-PAL to test innovative strategies in the fight against poverty.
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Baltimore, Maryland, is one of three local governments selected to work with J-PAL North America to evaluate solutions to homelessness, recidivism, and other policy challenges.
Baltimore, Maryland, is one of three local governments selected to work with J-PAL North America to evaluate solutions to homelessness, recidivism, and other policy challenges.
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J-PAL North America, a research center at MIT, announced today that it will partner with three city and county governments to evaluate promising solutions to homelessness and other important policy challenges facing state and local governments in the U.S. The City of Baltimore, Maryland; King County, Washington; and Santa Clara County, California, will work with J-PAL North America staff and leading academic researchers to test programs designed to help vulnerable individuals find and keep housing and to reduce jail time and recidivism for low-level offenders.

“We’re excited to partner with Baltimore, King County, and Santa Clara County as they take on some of the most important policy issues facing state and local leaders,” says Melissa Kearney, professor of economics at the University of Maryland, non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and co-chair of the J-PAL State and Local Innovation Initiative. “Through rigorous research, we can help governments identify the most effective and cost-effective solutions to these challenges.”

“The goal of this initiative is to give government leaders tools to better understand the impact of their policies and programs,” adds Jonathan Guryan, initiative co-chair and associate professor of human development and social policy and economics in the School of Education and Social Policy and Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. “We hope that these partnerships will help these governments make better informed decisions and ultimately improve the lives of the people they serve.”

Baltimore’s Mayor’s Office of Human Services is partnering with J-PAL North America to test innovative approaches to reducing homelessness among unaccompanied youth. Baltimore has seen a 21 percent rise in the number of homeless young people aged 18 to 24 in the last three years, and the city’s few programs designed for unaccompanied youth are at full capacity. As the city works to increase investment to prevent youth homelessness, it’s critical that new resources are directed toward the most effective interventions. To that end, the Mayor’s Office of Human Services will partner with J-PAL North America to develop an evaluation of housing and supportive services for homeless youth, with the goal of reducing the length of time youth are homeless and helping them achieve long-term stability and independence.

“The City of Baltimore is thrilled to be selected as a partner city for the J-PAL State and Local Innovation Initiative,” said Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh. “This opportunity to work with top experts and researchers will put Baltimore at the forefront of national efforts to develop evidence-based services and interventions for unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness. Over the past two years, we’ve worked to better serve homeless youth by conducting counts and surveys, investing in new housing opportunities and streamlining our systems of care. We look forward to working with J-PAL to evaluate what approaches are working best and build on our success.”

King County’s Department of Community and Human Services will partner with J-PAL North America to develop evaluations of two important programs — one aimed at preventing and reducing homelessness and another geared towards decreasing jail time and reducing recidivism for low-level offenders. The county’s Department of Community and Human Services coordinates services with community-based agencies to reach the region’s most vulnerable populations, such as people experiencing homelessness, mental illness, and substance use disorders. King County will partner with J-PAL North America and the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) to develop an evaluation of the Youth and Family Homelessness Prevention Initiative, which provides flexible funding and case management to families and unaccompanied youth. King County will also partner with J-PAL North America and LEO to evaluate the effectiveness of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, a pre-booking diversion program that redirects low-level offenders engaged in drug or prostitution activity to case management and community services.

“King County is continually improving our evidence-based policymaking to achieve better outcomes for our residents,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “I am thrilled King County was selected for J-PAL's State and Local Innovation Initiative. This partnership will allow us to better evaluate our homelessness prevention efforts and reduce involvement in our criminal justice system. We look forward to working with Notre Dame's Lab for Economic Opportunities and learning from other jurisdictions and J-PAL's network.”

Santa Clara County’s Office of Supportive Housing will partner with J-PAL North America to develop an evaluation of potential solutions to address homelessness among single adults. Despite its affluence, Santa Clara County has one of the largest homeless populations in the country, numbering 6,556 individuals in 2015 — 70 percent of whom have been found to be living in unsheltered conditions such as on the streets, under bridges, in cars, or in abandoned buildings. The county’s Office of Supportive Housing leads efforts to supply affordable housing for extremely low-income and special-needs households. Through a partnership with J-PAL North America and LEO, Santa Clara aims to build needed evidence of the impact of its housing interventions, not only on homelessness but also on public health and criminal justice outcomes, with the ultimate goal of ending homelessness within five years.

“Our partnership with the University of Notre Dame and MIT demonstrates our ongoing commitment to implementing the most cost-effective and evidence-based solutions to reducing homelessness in Santa Clara County,” says Ky Lee, director of Santa Clara’s Office of Supportive Housing.

All of these programs are expected to attract more applicants than they can serve. This creates an opportunity to assign slots to the program randomly, which is seen as a fair way to allocate scarce resources and allows researchers to rigorously evaluate the program.

“We were impressed by the strong commitment of the leaders in these governments to using data and rigorous evaluations to inform their policy decisions,” says Mary Ann Bates, deputy executive director of J-PAL North America and initiative co-chair. “Together with the other applicants to this initiative, these leaders represent an important movement toward evidence-based policymaking in the United States.”

The three jurisdictions will join five governments selected last year in the inaugural round of the J-PAL State and Local Innovation Initiative: Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Puerto Rico, Rochester, and South Carolina. This initiative supports state and local governments in generating new and widely applicable lessons about which social programs work, which work best, and why. These government partners and J-PAL North America are working to bridge the gap between academia and policy, and translate research into action that has a real impact on people’s lives.

For more information, contact initiative manager Julia Chabrier. To learn more, or to sign up to receive updates on the J-PAL State and Local Innovation Initiative, visit

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