Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children. Approaches to Understanding Homelessness


Another issue is whether homelessness should be approached in a cross-sectional way or situated in the larger context of developmental experience.  Some types of homelessness may be developmentally cumulative, becoming progressively worse over time, whereas others may be developmentally limited (e.g., only during periods of economic depression and only when children are in care of parents).  The successful negotiation of major life events such as completing an education, assuming adult roles, choosing a profession, marriage, and having children, may have important implications for the determination of which homeless families become economically self-sufficient and which ones deteriorate and remain chronically homeless.  A cross-sectional approach may be the simplest one for a client-service matching, but it may not be without limitations, and it tends to select chronically homeless people unless statistical corrections are made for the effect of homelessness duration on the chance of being selected in the study.  Homelessness, even of short duration, is often preceded by a period of considerable financial or emotional stress and poor quality of life. Thus, the variables included in the typology should not be limited to the period of homelessness, but also to preceding stressful periods and following periods of re-adaptation to having a home. Several studies have shown that the risk of homelessness is markedly increased by several distant developmental antecedents, such as physical and sexual abuse during childhood  (Bassuk, Perloff, and Dawson, 2001); foster care or institutional placement during childhood, housing instability during childhood (McChesney, 1992b) or homelessness as a youth (Mackenzie and Chamberlain, 2003).

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