Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children. Summary of Results


The reanalysis of the Fragile Families database shows that even among women who are extremely poor (at or below 50% of the poverty level), the risk of being homeless is not very large. Using a very broad definition of homelessness, less than one in ten (8%) of the women in this poverty sample indicated that they had been homeless for even 1 night over a 1-to-3 year period. However, only 22 percent reported being residentially stable (moving no more than once, not reporting any problems making ends meet) for the entire period, while the largest group (40%) of women were generally residentially stable but experienced some sort of financial issues (e.g., had problems paying for food, housing and/or utilities), but had not been homeless, doubled-up, or had to move frequently.6

The Fragile Families reanalysis also shows that there are characteristics and experiences that distinguish between these residential outcomes. Bivariate analyses indicate that the residential groups are distinct on a number of variables, often in a linear fashion, from those who experience the least stability to those experiencing the most stability. The most consistent findings relate to mothers' health, mental health, and substance use, suggesting that these conditions heighten their vulnerability to become homeless and their absence helps a mother remain stable. Overall, however, the results of the logistic models find few variables that have strong predictive value in differentiating those who experience homelessness from all others living in vast poverty, or those who remain residentially stable from all others. Having higher incomes and receiving housing assistance appear to serve as protective factors in the homeless models, whereas the health, mental health, and substance use issues appear to place a mother at risk (though the findings are not entirely consistent). In predicting stability living with a partner relates to greater stability, especially if the partner is working. Having other adults in the household also appears to increase a mother's likelihood of remaining stable and, not surprisingly, having substance use and mental health issues lessens a mother's likelihood of remaining stable.

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