Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children. Types of Studies That Could Best Inform a Typology

10/01/2007

The discussion of research studies focused on the advantages and disadvantages of longitudinal and cross-sectional designs. Some participants argued that cross-sectional designs are not helpful because they confound those who remain homeless with those who are newly homeless. It was suggested that a longitudinal study that followed first-time homeless families (not limited to urban centers) would be ideal. Others agreed that this design would be helpful but acknowledged the difficulty in tracking the population.

Others panelists believed that cross-sectional designs can be appropriate to obtaining an understanding of the current population. It was argued that cross-sectional designs are especially helpful for providing data for service providers who need to best understand the population in front of them. The majority of panelists agreed that different questions require different designs and that no single design is superior to all others.

Another main issue revolved around the importance of using administrative data. Proponents of administrative data believe that large, preexisting data sets could easily inform typology efforts. It was noted that, if administrative data were used, characteristics of those experiencing homelessness could be collected retrospectively. Others agreed, however, that most data sets are missing a housing stability field and recommended adding one to track those who are highly vulnerable and experiencing residential instability. Another recommendation was to add this field to preexisting child welfare data sets to better understand this vulnerable population.

Advantages and disadvantages of nationally representative samples versus local studies were also discussed. National samples offer the widest coverage of geographic locations and the larger populations provide greater validity and reliability. Panelists noted that the focus of a draft final report chapter (presented during the meeting) was solely on the potential of using national data sets for enhancement and secondary analysis. This emphasis was questioned by local-level advocates who believe that decisions on resource allocation are being made at the local level and by state/local dollars. Disadvantages of local sampling were noted, including the need to have consistency in answers across localities for any generalizable outcomes and the tendency for rural populations to be undersampled in these studies because of the placement of researchers in the field. Local-level studies are also problematic because of different community norms and regulations associated with homelessness services.

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