Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children. Developing a Typology of Homeless Families


The literature review provides a broad understanding of what is known about homeless families from the research conducted to date and offers a foundation for developing a typology of homeless families. There are also, as noted next, a number of unanswered questions about the population that may be important to address in moving forward. However, the purposes of the typology must first be determined to know what is pertinent from the existing literature and which knowledge gaps are the most critical to close.

Typologies are generally intended to create subgroups of cases. They may be developed for more than one purpose, including classifying individuals into groups, describing and improving the understanding of a population, matching groups to different levels or modes of service or treatment, and improving the ability to predict behavior (Harris and Jones, 1999). For this particular typology, the initial purposes are to foster a better understanding of homeless families' characteristics, service needs, interaction with human services systems, and the dynamics of their use of shelter and other services assistance. This understanding, in turn, is intended to assist in more effectively targeting existing services, maximizing the potential of existing programs to meet the needs of specific subgroups, and identifying new efforts to prevent homelessness for specific groups and to more effectively intervene with others.

Given these initial goals for the typology, it is important to understand families as they differ on levels of risk of homelessness, patterns of homelessness, service needs, and responsiveness to different interventions. It is also important to go beyond describing and predicting patterns of homelessness to determine which families can manage on their own, which need housing subsidies, and which need more help (supportive housing or something else) to exit homelessness and remain stable. For example, large families may be harder to place and, hence, family size might predict length of shelter stay, but large families without other risks might do well with only a housing subsidy.

The goals of a typology guide the selection of the overall approach, the variables to include, and the ways in which the typology can be validated. In this next section, based on a review of efforts to develop typologies in other areas, the following steps are outlined: strategies identified for developing a typology (including the selection of variables), criteria for evaluating the usefulness of a typology, and strategies for determining that these criteria are met. In reviewing these strategies, the implications of the experiences in other areas for developing a typology for homeless families are delineated in each section.

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