Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children. Proposed Secondary Analyses

10/01/2007

Among the studies reviewed, there are three data sets that hold the greatest promise for informing these typology efforts. These data sets include the NSAF, Women's Employment Study, and the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study. The best prospect is the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study, which has the following strengths:

  • Contains a high-risk sample for homelessness (i.e., new parents);
  • Is a longitudinal panel study that is national in scope;
  • Measures residential moves, including homelessness, so it can provide a sensitive understanding of the dynamics of homelessness and housing instability;
  • Has a number of questions for the prior year that measure incidence of risk factors for homelessness (e.g., being evicted; having utilities turned off), and the incidence of homelessness itself (e.g., staying for at least one night with others; staying at least one night in a literally homeless situation);
  • Examines various other factors in their lives that can operate as either risk or protective factors, and can help differentiate those who become homeless from those who do not; and
  • Includes developmental information on a cohort of children from birth to 4 years old.

The Fragile Families data set is readily available, free of charge, and has considerable documentation on the web. Given its potential and easy availability, reanalysis of the original data, presented in Chapter 5, has been conducted.

The NSAF is a second data set that has potential for providing data about families at risk of homelessness, and families who are homeless by virtue of being doubled up. As a large national database, it offers the potential to provide a strong understanding of the at-risk population, however, since it is only a cross-sectional study, the data will be a snap-shot of the population. This data set is also readily available and is well documented on the web site.

The Women's Employment Study database is the final data set that appears useful to reanalyze with a focus on homelessness. This data set provides data on families on welfare, their struggles with income insufficiency, and the impact that welfare reform is having, especially on housing stability and affordability. In particular, the study has potential for explaining the dynamics of shelter use and residential instability among welfare families. The drawbacks of the study are that the data are currently not in the public domain, the study is concentrated in a single site, the study includes a relatively small sample, and the number of homeless families in the data set could be too small for analysis. However, as it is an active research team, additional analyses may be ongoing or may be solicited.

Two other studies offer less information for the time and effort it would take to access, understand, review, and reanalyze the data. The Three-City Study, for example, could be useful to the typology development if there is a sufficient sample of families who reveal that they have used shelter or have been doubled up with others. However, the indirect nature of these questions suggests that this is unlikely to be the case.

The CWHRS contains key information on housing affordability, residential mobility, and homelessness of women currently being abused. From a prior examination of this data set, significant subsets of families in the data set are currently homeless. A key analytic question would be if the help-seeking patterns of those who are homeless differ from individuals who are currently housed, and what other factors are related to their help-seeking behaviors. However, the fact that it is a single study, has only two waves of data (with the second wave only a year or less after the baseline), and focuses on only one subset of the overall homeless families population lowers its priority for reanalysis.

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