Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children. Expert Panel Overview


To guide the conceptualization of the typology, a one-day Expert Panel meeting was held in Washington, DC on July 25, 2005. Experts in homeless families research, homelessness research in general, welfare, and typology development were invited to participate along with several Federal representatives. The Expert Panelists discussed what constitutes a typology, potential goals for the typology, and the types of studies that would best inform these efforts. Panelists were also asked to identify critical knowledge gaps. To aid the discussion, five of the eight Expert Panelists contributed four papers focusing on a review of conceptual issues and methodological strategies for developing typology for homeless families; what is known about homeless children; families at risk of homelessness; and a review of opportunities and impediments related to permanent housing.

The meeting was intended to generate discussion that would help inform the conceptualization of a typology, including key elements to consider in its development, study options that could provide useful data, and next steps to take. The Expert Panelists focused on four goals for the development of a typology of homeless families and indicated that more than one typology is needed to guide policy and practice. The goals are as follows:

  • Prevention policy-oriented typology that would focus on identifying the risk factors for homelessness;
  • Resource allocation typology to help understand homelessness epidemiologically and guide the allocation of available resources locally;
  • Services policy typology geared toward policymakers that would identify the menu of services needed to assist homeless families; and
  • Treatment matching typology that would facilitate the matching of treatment and service intensity to particular families.

Although all goals were considered important, typologies that would guide prevention policy and resource allocation were considered the highest priorities for homeless families.

The panelists agreed that typologies should be simple in structure, easy to use, derive from available data, and have practical utility. Each typology should demonstrate predictive and construct validity and reliability and should include characteristics of homeless families, characteristics of the environment of such families, and characteristics of the interaction with the environment. Although the panel thought a range of study designs (e.g., longitudinal, cross-sectional) could inform a typology, the majority also believed a nationally geographic, representative longitudinal study that followed first-time homeless families from the shelter would provide the most guidance for constructing a comprehensive typology.

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