Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children. Introduction


As noted in Chapter 4, through an extensive review of existing data sets, a data set was identified with potential for informing the development of a typology of homeless families. The Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study (Reichman, N.E., Teitler, J.O., Garfinkel, I., McLanahan, S., 2001) follows a birth cohort of new parents and their children over a 5-year period beginning in 1998. This sample is at high risk for homelessness in that pregnancy is one of the major risk factors found to precede homelessness (Weitzman, 1989) or loss of housing (Rog and Gutman, 1997). In addition, because the study oversampled unmarried women, the sample contains a higher proportion of women potentially more vulnerable to residential instability. Furthermore, Fragile Families is a national longitudinal panel study that includes measures of residential instability and risk (e.g., being evicted, having utilities turned off), as well as the incidence of being doubled-up (i.e., staying for at least one night with others) and literal homelessness (i.e., staying at least one night in a literally homeless situation).1 These data thus afford the ability to track families over time and to examine the role of various risk or protective factors on residential stability.

This chapter describes a reanalysis of the Fragile Families data set focused on the following research questions:

  • What are the risk and protective factors that differentiate, among a cohort of poor families, those families who:
    • Experienced homelessness and those who remained stably housed?
    • Experienced homelessness and those who become doubled up or residentially unstable (i.e., at risk of homelessness)?
    • Became doubled up or residentially unstable and those who remained stably housed?

The reanalysis is intended to inform our conceptualization of a typology of homeless families. As a multisite database of high-risk families, it provides an opportunity to examine the incidence of homelessness over multiple geographic areas, over time, and in contrast to a comparison population of poor families experiencing a range of residential arrangements.2

The chapter begins with a brief description of the data set, the sample selected for the re-analyses, the creation of residential groups and other relevant measures, and the analyses performed. Then, the results of the reanalysis are provided, followed by a summary of the findings and a discussion of the study's implications for filling knowledge gaps, guiding typology development, and directing future research.

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