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Abt Finds First Place Helps Stabilize Homeless Youth


  • Evaluate the First Place Program and experiences of youth experiencing homelessness.
  • Abt assessed the program’s design and implementation as well as the participants.
  • First Place housing units seemed to postively effect recurring homelessness.
The Challenge

The First Place Program, funded by the John T. Gorman Foundation,  provides accessible barrier-free services to help people experiencing problems with homelessness, housing, hunger and poverty in Portland, Maine. To determine the program’s effectiveness, the Foundation asked Abt to provide a series of evaluations, the first being an assessment of how the program impacts housing stability among participants.

The Approach

Abt examined the experiences of 35 First Place program enrollees between 2015 and 2018. The study included two core components:                         

  1. The implementation study explored how the program was designed, implemented and modified over time.
  2. The descriptive youth study examined youth characteristics and experiences in: housing, employment, education, risk behaviors, demographic characteristics, and social and emotional well-being.

Program participants were interviewed at the time of program enrollment and again 12 months later. In addition, some were interviewed 24 – 30 months. Case study interviews were conducted multiple times with three youth on specific areas of interest: housing stability, employment, education, health and well-being.

The Results

Abt found there was no single path to homelessness, but there were shared experiences characterized by trauma, familial instability, and lack of positive social supports. Youth included in the study were more likely to identify as LGBTQ or people of color compared to Maine’s population. Half had at least one foster care or group home placement before the age of 18.

Most youth in the study were working on securing and maintaining housing while also working on mental health issues, overcoming substance use disorders and addressing prior trauma. Youth who were provided a First Place unit returned to homelessness at lower rates than those receiving First Place services while in other living situations.

Three more briefs will be produced during 2019.

Related Publications:
Housing Stability Among First Place-Involved Youth