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army of epidemiologists off the street. More troublesome, however, is the inevita-
ble disclosure of targeting criteria to those to whom they apply. A good advocate
could do no less, and if a public benefit were at stake, the information would not be
protected by law. This would result in relentless manipulation and counter-
manipulation between clients and providers, with antagonism and scientific futility
as the results.
Finally, unless programs based on indicated strategies involve the
creation of new housing resources, they run the risk of reallocating homelessness
among individuals, rather than reducing it, and of mistaking limited program bene-
fits for net effects.
In view of this assessment, should we persist with indicated programs her-
alded as homelessness prevention? There is an old debate about whether material
aid and other help for poor people should be narrowly targeted or embedded in uni-
versal programs. That debate is joined on two fronts by the evidence reviewed here.
First, the nature of "material aid" offered by some of the more successful second-
ary prevention programs is effectively "in kind." Both money management and
vendor payments ensure rent payment in ways that effectively circumvent personal
discretion. There is thus an inherently coercive element to such arrangements--
though they may be "voluntarily" entered into, one's range of options at the time is
rather small--and this element (how presented, negotiated, sustained over time) is
worth further research in its own right. Second, the argument for targeting empha-
sizes the tendency of universal programs to "squander" resources on the most priv-
ileged; the counterargument asserts that targeted programs are politically fragile
because they alienate middle-income voters (Skocpol, 1991; Wilson, 1987). This
larger debate need not concern us here, but there is an analogous question in the
prevention of homelessness: Should homeless or "at-risk" poor people get privi-
leged access to resources? The question is important because this is surely what
occurs all over the country in the process of queue forming, whether for subsidized
housing in New York City or access to scarce publicly funded methadone mainte-
nance slots in San Francisco. Such preferences reflect moral judgments about rela-
tive suffering and culpability and the relative success of advocates for one group of
disadvantaged people or another.
These considerations aside, do indicated programs contribute to the efficient
prevention of homelessness? The queue-jumping phenomenon makes such a ques-
tion difficult to answer. Moreover, agency staff sometimes have strong incentives to
stretch the official definition of homelessness or risk for it, and such collusion fur-
ther complicates the matter. Thus, the street-level politics of categorical distinction
and resource rationing (Lipsky, 1980) make it difficult, though not impossible, to
The Prevention of Homelessness Revisited
The Social Security Administration's experience with adjudicating disability claims is perhaps
the best example of the travails of an agency attempting to defend eligibility boundaries against desper-
ate claimants often well-rehearsed by lay advocates and lawyers (see, in general, Mashaw, 1983, and
Stone, 1984).