The effectiveness of case management interventions for the homeless, vulnerably housed and persons with lived experience: A systematic review

PLoS One. 2020 Apr 9;15(4):e0230896. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0230896. eCollection 2020.


Background: Individuals who are homeless or vulnerably housed are at an increased risk for mental illness, other morbidities and premature death. Standard case management interventions as well as more intensive models with practitioner support, such as assertive community treatment, critical time interventions, and intensive case management, may improve healthcare navigation and outcomes. However, the definitions of these models as well as the fidelity and adaptations in real world interventions are highly variable. We conducted a systematic review to examine the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of case management interventions on health and social outcomes for homeless populations.

Methods and findings: We searched Medline, Embase and 7 other electronic databases for trials on case management or care coordination, from the inception of these databases to July 2019. We sought outcomes on housing stability, mental health, quality of life, substance use, hospitalization, income and employment, and cost-effectiveness. We calculated pooled random effects estimates and assessed the certainty of the evidence using the GRADE approach. Our search identified 13,811 citations; and 56 primary studies met our full inclusion criteria. Standard case management had both limited and short-term effects on substance use and housing outcomes and showed potential to increase hostility and depression. Intensive case management substantially reduced the number of days spent homeless (SMD -0.22 95% CI -0.40 to -0.03), as well as substance and alcohol use. Critical time interventions and assertive community treatment were found to have a protective effect in terms of rehospitalizations and a promising effect on housing stability. Assertive community treatment was found to be cost-effective compared to standard case management.

Conclusions: Case management approaches were found to improve some if not all of the health and social outcomes that were examined in this study. The important factors were likely delivery intensity, the number and type of caseloads, hospital versus community programs and varying levels of participant needs. More research is needed to fully understand how to continue to obtain the increased benefits inherent in intensive case management, even in community settings where feasibility considerations lead to larger caseloads and less-intensive follow-up.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Case Management*
  • Community Mental Health Services / economics
  • Community Mental Health Services / methods
  • Employment*
  • Hospitalization
  • Housing*
  • Humans
  • Ill-Housed Persons*
  • Mental Health*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy
  • Vulnerable Populations

Grants and funding

This systematic review was funded by Inner City Health Associates, Toronto, Canada to KP. The funders of the study had no role in the study design, data collection, data analysis, data interpretation, or the writing of the report. The corresponding author had full access to all of the data in the study and had final responsibility for the decision to submit for publication.