Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children. Similarities Between Homeless and Low-income Housed Children


As stated at the beginning of this section, it seems easier to discern a poverty-related effect in studies of homeless and low-income children than a homelessness-specific effect. A simple explanation is that both groups tend to differ far more from children in the general population, in terms of exposure to risk factors detrimental to various measures of outcomes than they do to one another. Despite differences in current housing status, homeless children and low-income housed children have more similarities than differences in what they have been exposed to. Even on housing status, it is important to note that homelessness is a temporary state through which people pass, not a permanent trait emanating from individual deficits (Shinn, 1997).15 Also, the living conditions of housed low-income children can be quite decrepit thereby attenuating the contrast between them and children who are living in shelter.

Children from low-income families, whether homeless or housed, face an array of chronic strains and acute negative life events that stem from the broader conditions of poverty.16 These adversities may loom large over the specific detrimental effects that homelessness can have on a child (especially when looked at over the long term). In other words, problems attributable to poverty-related stressors may be much greater than those that are homelessness specific. When viewed in the context of a much broader range of adversities, it is apparent that homelessness is but one of many stressors that children living in poverty all too frequently encounter. For most children, homelessness as a stressful event, may rank somewhere in the moderate range in terms of severity. It has the potential to be more stressful than many experiences, but not to the degree that some events hold, such as witnessing or being the victim of abuse or violence; events that are not uniquely experienced by children when homeless.

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