Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children. Paper Title: Toward a Typology of Homeless Families: Conceptual and Methodological Issues


Paper Title: Toward a Typology of Homeless Families: Conceptual and Methodological Issues
(full text of paper can be found in Appendix B of this report)
Authors: Thomas Babor and Rene Jahiel

Summary of Presentation. This paper reviews conceptual issues and methodological strategies for developing a typology of homeless families. A typology is defined as a classification system and a set of decision rules used to differentiate relatively homogenous groups called subtypes. Taxonomic standards for an effective typology were reviewed, including the need for simplicity and practical utility, among others.

Potential functions of a homeless families typology were also discussed, including summarizing diagnostic information, providing an empirical basis for client-service matching, minimizing effects on children, and helping to prevent homelessness. Some of the decisions that need to be made in developing a typology include whether the approach should be driven by theory or blind empiricism; whether the typology is based on a single domain or is multidimensional; whether the data informing the typology come from longitudinal or cross-sectional variables; and whether one typology is sufficient or multiple typologies are needed.

Dr. Babor and Dr. Jahiel proposed that a typology should be based on three types of variables: exogenous (housing environment, housing and health/human service access); endogenous (family and individual characteristics); and situational (fit between homeless families' needs and resources accessible). As a heuristic device, the authors suggested a four-cell model identifying interactions between endogenous and exogenous factors. Using existing data sets, this model could be used to identify interactions between types of individuals and environments, resulting in subtypes that could provide a basis for matching families to appropriate levels and types of interventions and prevention efforts.

Methodological issues to develop a typology were examined, with a main focus on disadvantages and advantages of various approaches, criteria for selecting variables, measurement procedures, and statistical methods.

Summary of reactions and comments. Panel members expressed appreciation for the authors' review of conceptual and methodological issues of typology development. There was general discussion on the importance of having a typology that policymakers will use, that has practical importance, and that will actually work. Selecting criterion variables based on ease of use by policymakers (i.e., easy language like days versus stays) was discussed. There was particular interest in the interaction between individual and environmental factors and how it can be handled in a typology. In particular, community factors (e.g., earning power, rental prices, and local amount of subsidies) may be especially helpful to understand as an overlay to individual factors.

Some panelists were concerned with the wide variety of environmental factors that could be included, such as a family's culture, state of residence, and shelter requirements. Cultural differences, for example, can be important as they affect shelter usage. Asians and Latinos are less likely to come to shelters, whereas African Americans and Native Americans are more likely to come.

Also discussed by the panel were the disadvantages of the typology literature as being tautological and outlining classification techniques, but failing to describe classification with a purpose.

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