Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children. Summary


Based on the literature on subtyping of homeless individuals and families, there is some evidence to suggest that most of the attempts to classify this population, either according to a priori domains or according to multivariate statistical techniques, have identified two broad types of homelessness that can be arranged on a single continuum ranging from relatively simple, benign, time-limited, uncomplicated cases (e.g., situationally distressed, resource people, new homeless, transitional) to more complicated, “malignant” chronic, multiproblem cases (e.g., chronically mental ill, chronic alcoholic, street people (Fischer and Breakey, 1985), shelter people (Roth et al., 1985), episodic, chronic (Ropers, 1988; Kuhn and Culhane, 1998), multiply homeless (Bassuk et al., 2001).  As discussed later, this simple dichotomy may be a good place to begin in the development of a useful typology of homeless families.

What is the experience from other fields such as psychiatry, criminology, and alcoholism?

There is along tradition of typological research in psychiatry, alcoholism, and criminology that may be useful in the development of typological approaches to the description and management of homeless families.  For example, the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (APA, 1994), which is used primarily for clinical and reporting purposes, describes subtypes for schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, anxiety disorders, affective disorder, delusional disorder, and substance induced psychotic disorder.  These subtyping schemes are derived primarily from clinical experience rather than from empirical research, and each one relies on a different organizing principle.  The subtypes of schizophrenia (paranoid, catatonic, disorganized, undifferentiated, and residual), for example, are organized on the basis of “the clinical picture,” which presumably refers to presenting symptoms.  The subtypes of schizoaffective disorder (bipolar type, depressive type) are organized according to affect disturbance.  The subtypes of delusional disorder (erotomanic, grandiose, jealous, persecutory, somatic, mixed) are organized according to the predominant delusion.  What these psychiatric subtyping schemes have in common is their attempt to classify psychiatric patients who share the same general condition into more meaningful or clinically useful subgroups.

In the field of alcoholism, the tradition of clinical subtyping according to single domains extends back to the 19th century (Babor, 1998; Babor and Dolinsky, 1988) and includes the domain of childhood vulnerability factors, family history of alcoholism, onset age, dependence, severity, and co-morbid psychopathology. Over the past century there has been an evolution of typological theory from these single domain subtypes, such as familial and nonfamilial alcoholism, to multidimensional typologies, based on a variety of defining characteristics, such as etiological elements, personality characteristics, drinking patterns, and course of illness (Babor, 1998).  This evolution in typological thinking has been in part influenced by the development of multivariate statistical techniques as well as reliable and valid measurement procedures that make it possible to search for homogeneous subgroups within a population of alcoholics.  Similar to the simple dichotomy suggested above in the review of the homeless typology literature, the alcoholism typology literature has identified a low severity, low vulnerability subgroup (Type A) and a high vulnerability, high severity subgroup (Type B) (Babor et al., 1992).

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