Toward Understanding Homelessness: The 2007 National Symposium on Homelessness Research. Historical and Contextual Influences on the U.S. Response to Contemporary Homelessness. Distinguishing Between a System of Service and a System of Care


The concept of a homeless system of service is borrowed from the concept of a system of care. The latter developed around addressing the complex service needs of families and children with serious emotional disturbance (Stroul & Friedman, 1986). A system of care is a philosophy rather than a program, and it emphasizes a coordinated network of community-based services organized to meet the challenges of children and youth with serious mental health needs and their families ( It responds specifically to the needs of those served, in a culturally appropriate manner and with interagency collaboration. Program development, funding decisions, and the promotion of effective practices are all guided by this philosophy and the desire to create systems of care in all communities.

The care terminology does not fit well with housing, which is conceptually different from the types of care and services associated with health, welfare, employment, etc. As a result, the system of service terminology is used here since it is more inclusive and descriptive of an approach to serving homeless people. Therefore, while the terminology is different, the system concept is relevant in that it suggests an approach that is value-driven and used to synthesize and structure the response to the needs of the population being assisted. A system of service will be able to achieve accomplishments that exceed the capabilities of any one of its member components. The following is offered as a definition of a homeless system of service: A coordinated, interrelated set of technologies, providers, policies, and funding streams that continually adapts to meet effectively the service needs of defined groups of persons experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

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