Toward Understanding Homelessness: The 2007 National Symposium on Homelessness Research. Homeless Families and Children. Research on Homeless Families


Broader geographic samples. The research base on homeless families has grown over the last decade, but there continue to be significant gaps in knowledge that, if addressed, could bolster our understanding of the needs of families and strategies for preventing and reducing homelessness. One of the limitations of the current research base is that most of the rigorous studies are in selected cities across the country and several are targeted to specific subgroups of families, often those with heightened needs. Thus, there is a need for information on homeless families from broader geographic areas, especially in the Midwest and South and in rural areas. There is also an absence of research on key population groups, including families at risk for homelessness; moderate-need families; families who fall back into homelessness after receiving interventions; families who are working but continue to be homeless; two-parent families; families headed by a single father; families living in extended family networks; and single homeless adults who are non custodial parents.

Longitudinal designs.   Most studies to date, with a few recent exceptions, have had cross-sectional designs. Longitudinal studies are needed to explore the course of residential instability and homelessness over several years, and the individual, contextual, and intervention factors that influence this course. Longitudinal research of at-risk families would also help to differentiate distal risk factors for homelessness from proximal, mediating variables, which serve as risk and protective factors for family homelessness.

Research on housing affordability strategies.  The core importance of housing affordability in mitigating homelessness among families and children calls for research on broad-scale housing and income policy interventions. For example, among the interventions that could be studied for effects on rates of homelessness are varying amounts of housing subsidies; tying income supplements to housing vouchers; and any other mechanisms for increasing incomes and reducing housing costs for young families.

Intervention research.  Finally, there is still a large need for research on the match between housing approaches and the needs of families. In particular, there is a need for rigorous data on the role of services in ameliorating the range of health, mental health, child welfare, substance abuse, and other service needs that families may have, especially in the context of providing housing. How much service is needed and by whom? The evaluations to date provide evidence that most tested housing approaches result in increases in housing stability, but there are no studies to date that offer comparative information on different housing and service models. These data are critical to understanding which families need what level of intervention to acquire and keep housing as well as to make strides in other outcome areas (e.g., employment).

The findings from the CMHS/CSAT Homeless Families Project indicate the challenges of devising effective interventions to address the mental health, substance abuse, and housing stability issues of mothers who are homeless (Rog, Buckner, & the CMHS/CSAT Homeless Families Program Steering Committee, in press). Additional intervention development work is needed to learn effective strategies that benefit homeless families in these realms.

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