Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children. Summary


The current homelessness research provides an extensive understanding of currently homeless families' characteristics and service needs and, to some degree, the patterns of residential instability they faced prior to becoming homeless. However, as a whole, the existing studies lack geographic diversity and do not provide the ability to understand subsets of families. Moreover, there is not sufficient data tracking of families at risk of homelessness or those that fall back into homelessness over time. In addition, the small sample sizes of the more general homeless family population studies restrict the ability to focus on subgroups of families. There is little study of the role that prevention and intervention efforts play in the lives of the families or the role that specific government programs have in preventing or intervening with homelessness.

The majority of studies reviewed for this effort, especially the general population studies, do not hold the prospect of filling the knowledge voids. Those studies that focus on, or include, key at-risk populations and that are national in scope lack questions on homelessness. Those that do include a housing or living arrangement question or domain may not have an explicit code for homelessness. For example, after extensive review of the NLS, it was discovered that addresses, and not types of locations, are coded, thus making it impossible to distinguish a shelter address from a housing address. If nothing else, the database investigation has revealed shortcomings in some of the nation's major data sets that are clearly missing a significant segment of the population. Remedies for improving some of the data sets' ability to inform the efforts would range from adding codes to the "other responses" to adding probes or questions.

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