Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children. Descriptive Analyses and Results


Descriptive analyses were conducted with all of the variables shown in Table 5-2. These analyses were conducted to examine differences among the combined residential groups on the range of variables listed in Table 5-2. Alcohol and drug use were combined to create a single substance use variable. Several measures of mental health status — currently feeling sad or depressed, recently lost interest in hobbies/work, or recently feeling tense/anxious — were also combined into a single mental health indicator. Means, standard deviations, percentages and other descriptive statistics were computed for these variables for each residential group. The appropriate comparative analysis — chi-square, t-test — was then used to determine if the residential groups statistically differed on each of these variables. These analyses allow us to determine how these individual groups compared and contrasted.

The number of families in each residential group varies, both over time and when combined. At Year 1 and Year 3, for example, over one-third of families can be classified as residentially stable (35% and 42%) or at-risk (39% and 37%), while approximately one-fifth were doubled-up (21% and 16%) and only one-twentieth were currently or recently homeless (6% and 5%). When the two years are combined, however, the number of residentially stable families declines to only 22%. The percentage of families at-risk across both time periods increases to 41%, and Doubled-Up to 28%. The percentage of families ever homeless also increases to 8%.

The tables found in Appendix E provide the descriptive comparisons of the four combined residential groups for households at or below 50 percent of the poverty level on all key variables. The table also shows statistical differences between and among the groups.

This section provides a brief summary of these findings, highlighting the patterns of differences among the groups. First, as has been found in past studies (see Chapter 2), there were no demographic and background differences between the various residential groups. The mother's age at baseline, for example, was almost identical between the four groups (24 to 25 years old, on average), and comparable percentages of women were African-American (61% - 70%). There were also no major differences in the percentage of women with a high school degree (45% - 49%), currently attending any school or training (14% - 20%), or working (34% - 38%).

There were, however, distinguishing characteristics for each of the groups. Stable families were most distinct from all other families on a full host of health, mental health and substance use variables. Compared to each of the other groups, families who were residentially stable both years reported statistically:

  • Better health
  • Less alcohol use
  • Less drug use
  • Less smoking
  • Less daily interference from drug and alcohol use
  • Less depression or other mental health issues
  • Less likelihood of being hit or slapped by a spouse/partner

The other area of pronounced difference between stable families and all other groups of families involved resources. Of all four groups, those stably housed were most likely to have a spouse working and have someone who could co-sign for a loan. They were least likely of all groups to receive food stamps or free food in the past year, to report going hungry, and to apply for the Earned Income Tax credit. Although there are other differences between the residentially stable groups and others, the patterns of resources and problems are the strongest and most consistent.

Among the groups, at-risk families were the least likely to have lived with their mother at any interview time point, had the fewest number of adults in the family, and were most likely to have received a housing subsidy since the baseline. Doubled-up families, not surprisingly, are the most likely of all groups to have more adults in their household. Compared to at-risk families, doubled-up families are more likely to live with their mother, less likely to have a spouse or partner working, but more likely to have another adult working in the household, and less likely to have a housing subsidy.

Homeless families, compared to all groups, are most likely to have received free food in the past year, yet also most likely to have gone hungry, least likely to have someone in their family offer a place to live or to have someone who could co-sign a loan, and most likely to report using drugs and report mental health symptoms.

These descriptive comparisons show a variety of differences between the groups, but most clearly show differences between the groups on household composition, resources and receipt of benefits, and on health, mental health, and substance use.

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