Assessing criminal history as a predictor of future housing success for homeless adults with behavioral health disorders

Psychiatr Serv. 2009 Feb;60(2):224-30. doi: 10.1176/ps.2009.60.2.224.


Objective: Homeless adults with serious mental illnesses and chronic substance abuse problems have few housing options, a problem compounded when a criminal background is present. This study compared the criminal backgrounds and other characteristics of homeless individuals who succeeded in housing (retained housing continuously for two years) and those who failed in housing.

Methods: The study population consisted of homeless adults with behavioral health disorders who moved into supportive housing between January 1, 2000, and June 30, 2004, regardless of criminal background. Data about criminal history and other characteristics were extracted from existing records and analyzed for associations with housing success. Chi square tests and logistic regression analysis were used to find characteristics predictive of subsequent housing success or failure.

Results: Data were available for 347 participants. Most (51%) had a criminal record, and 72% achieved housing success. The presence of a criminal background did not predict housing failure. Younger age at move-in, the presence of a substance abuse problem, and higher numbers of drug crimes and property crimes were separately associated with more housing failure; however, when they were adjusted for each of the other variables, only move-in age remained associated with the outcome.

Conclusions: The finding that criminal history does not provide good predictive information about the potential for housing success is important because it contradicts the expectations of housing operators and policy makers. The findings suggest that policies and practices that keep homeless people with criminal records out of housing may be unnecessarily restrictive.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Crime*
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Housing*
  • Humans
  • Ill-Housed Persons*
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders*
  • Middle Aged
  • United States
  • Young Adult