Family homelessness

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Family homelessness is the phenomenon of whole family units experiencing homelessness. In some Western countries, such as the United States, family homelessness is a new form of poverty, and a fast growing group of the homelessness population.[1] Homelessness is one of our nation’s most misunderstood and vexing social problems. [2] Some American researchers argue that family homelessness is the inevitable result of imbalanced “low-income housing ratio” where there are more low-income households than there are low-cost housing units.[3] In January 2018 an estimated 180,413 people in families, or 56,342 family households, were identified as homeless. Approximately 16,390 people in families were living on the street, in a car, or in another place not meant for human habitation.[4] Homeless families are generally thought to be headed by women. In the United States, homeless families make up about a third of all homeless people in the country.[5] For female headed homeless families, mothers are more frequently abused as children and battered as adults than housed mothers. They don't have a support network or extended family close by, and the frequency of drug, alcohol, and serious psychiatric problems are greater among homeless mothers. Psychiatric disabilities may also be a contributing factor.[6]

While scholars differ on conceptualizations of homelessness, whether it is a just temporary state through which people pass or if it is a permanent trait that emanates from individual characteristics, studies indicate for families, homelessness is a temporary state that is often resolved by the provision of subsidized housing.[7] Similarly, other studies have found that the majority of homeless families stay in homeless shelters for relatively brief periods of time. These families then exit and do not return. About 20 percent have longer stays in shelters, but only a small number of families have repeat stays.[8]

Factors Involved[edit]

The affordability (or lack thereof) of housing challenges poor people’s abilities to maintain decent housing. High housing costs are one of the most common contributing factors to the loss of housing.[9] Between 22% and 57% of all homeless women report that domestic violence was the immediate cause of their homelessness.[10] Substance abuse is also another cause of homelessness in families. Addictive disorders disrupt relationships with family and friends and often cause people to lose their jobs. For people who are already struggling to pay their bills, the onset or exacerbation of an addiction may cause them to lose their housing.[11] Family homelessness is thought to have a high proportion of children in foster care.[12] Children in homeless families had delayed communication and higher mean scores for mental health problems than low income families who were not homeless.[13] Homeless children confront serious threats to their ability to succeed and their future well-being. Of particular concern are health problems, hunger, poor nutrition, developmental delays, anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, and educational underachievement.[14] Social isolation is thought to be more a consequence than a cause of family homelessness.[15]


Housing is an essential part of the remedy for homelessness. Rental subsidies, such as Section 8 certificates, provide payment for housing that is generally based on some proportion of an individual’s income. The household pays approximately 30% of its income toward rent, and the federal government subsidizes the remainder. Emergency shelter grants provides for basic shelter and essential supportive services. It also can be used for short-term homeless prevention assistance to persons at imminent risk of losing their own housing due to eviction, foreclosure, or utility shutoffs.[16] Some American researchers argue that social programs that either reduce poverty or increase the supply of affordable housing will be effective in lowering the total number of homeless families.[3]


  1. ^ Nunez, Ralph, and Cybelle Fox. "A snapshot of family homelessness across America." Political Science Quarterly 114, no. 2 (1999): 289-307.
  2. ^ "The Facts About Family Homelessness | Doorways". Doorways for Women and Families. Retrieved 2019-07-24.
  3. ^ a b McChesney, Kay Young. "Family homelessness: A systemic problem." Journal of Social Issues 46, no. 4 (1990): 191-205.
  4. ^ "Children and Families". National Alliance to End Homelessness. Retrieved 2019-07-24.
  5. ^ Bassuk, Ellen L., and Lynn Rosenberg. "Why does family homelessness occur? A case-control study." American Journal of Public Health 78, no. 7 (1988): 783-788.
  6. ^ Bassuk, E L; Rosenberg, L (1988). "Why does family homelessness occur? A case-control study". American Journal of Public Health. 78 (7): 783–788. doi:10.2105/AJPH.78.7.783. ISSN 0090-0036. PMC 1350333.
  7. ^ Shinn, Marybeth. "Family homelessness: State or trait?." American journal of community psychology 25, no. 6 (1997): 755-769.
  8. ^ Culhane, Dennis P., Stephen Metraux, Jung Min Park, Maryanne Schretzman, and Jesse Valente. "Testing a typology of family homelessness based on patterns of public shelter utilization in four US jurisdictions: Implications for policy and program planning." Housing Policy Debate 18, no. 1 (2007): 1-28.
  9. ^ Shinn, Mary Beth; Rog, Debra; Culhane, Dennis (2005-05-01). "Family Homelessness: Background Research Findings and Policy Options". Departmental Papers (SPP).
  10. ^ "Domestic Violence and Homelessness: Statistics (2016)". Family and Youth Services Bureau | ACF. Retrieved 2019-07-24.
  11. ^ "Substance Abuse and Homelessness" (PDF).
  12. ^ Zlotnick, Cheryl, Diana Kronstadt, and Linnea Klee. "Foster care children and family homelessness." American Journal of Public Health 88, no. 9 (1998): 1368-1370.
  13. ^ Cumella, Stuart; Grattan, Eleanor; Vostanis, Panos (1998). "The mental health of children in homeless families and their contact with health, education and social services". Health and Social Care in the Community. 6 (5): 331–342. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2524.1998.00139.x. ISSN 0966-0410.
  14. ^ Rafferty, Yvonne; Shinn, Marybeth (1991). "The impact of homelessness on children". American Psychologist. 46 (11): 1170–1179. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.46.11.1170. ISSN 1935-990X.
  15. ^ Goodman, Lisa A. "The relationship between social support and family homelessness: A comparison study of homeless and housed mothers." Journal of Community Psychology 19, no. 4 (1991): 321-332.
  16. ^ Shinn, Mary Beth; Rog, Debra; Culhane, Dennis (2005-05-01). "Family Homelessness: Background Research Findings and Policy Options". Departmental Papers (SPP).