Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children. Building on the Existing Knowledge Base


This chapter, describing the contributions of existing research, provides the first in a series of building blocks toward developing a typology of homeless families. Although the number of studies conducted on homeless families is small, the considerable overlap in the findings suggests that there may be a sufficient knowledge base upon which to begin to develop a typology. The literature review in this chapter focuses specifically on what has been learned about the characteristics, needs, and service-use patterns of homeless parents and children to guide the development of a typology. Also highlighted are the gaps in the current base of knowledge that should be filled to construct a useful typology based on existing research in typology development.

Studies in this review include published literature, government reports, and documents identified through contacts with programs and organizations involved in these issues. Both research and evaluation studies are included if they focus on the characteristics, needs, and/or service-use patterns of families or the individuals who comprise these families. Single site and multisite studies are included, as are studies that focus on specific subpopulations and those that attempt to be more epidemiologic in scope.

The review begins with a synthesis of the research on the demographic and background characteristics of homeless families, including basic demographics of the families, human and social capital, and residential patterns (Section 2.2). Section 2.3 describes what is known about the service needs, access, and utilization patterns of homeless mothers, followed by a similar section on the service needs, access, and utilization patterns of homeless children (Section 2.4). Key findings from prior efforts in developing typologies, how current knowledge on homeless families can begin to guide the conceptualization of a typology, and what still needs to be known to fully inform these efforts are described in Section 2.5. Finally, Section 2.6 summarizes the main points of the review and outlines implications for next steps.

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