Since the mid-1990s, there has been continued research and policy interest in understanding the characteristics and needs of families and their children who become homeless, especially in understanding the heterogeneity within the population and whether a typology of families can be created (i.e., distinguishing families with greater needs for services and housing from those with lesser needs). With respect to children, research has focused largely on understanding the impact of homelessness.
At federal and state levels, there also has been increased attention to the types of housing models needed by the array of families who become homeless (including transitional, permanent supportive housing, and permanent housing), the services that are needed to assist families and their children while they are homeless and after they exit, and strategies for preventing family homelessness and facilitating more rapid exits.
In this paper, we synthesize what we know in each of these areas, highlighting the relevant research studies and policy analyses that have been conducted since 1998 that shape our understanding. We begin with a methodological overview of the more recent research studies on the characteristics and needs of families and children, followed by a summary of the main findings. We then provide a more in-depth synthesis of the literature on the characteristics and needs of homeless families overall, and then on the impact of homelessness on children. We follow with summaries of the descriptive and outcome findings from evaluations of various housing and service interventions and efforts to prevent homelessness. The final section outlines the research that is indicated to fill the gaps in knowledge that remain.