Reports and Briefs
Charts and Graphics
American Almanac
UNCENSORED
Journal of Children & Poverty
PovertyHistory.org

Reports and Briefs

A Tangled Web: Homeless Family Subpopulations and Their Overlapping Needs

Homeless families often face additional challenges to attaining and maintaining housing due to mental illness, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, and veteran status. Data and research on these families are lacking; the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress marked the first year that any separate data on family subpopulations were publicly released (figure 1). As this report only provides national data on adults in families residing in permanent supportive housing, it paints a limited picture. For years, local data have been collected in point-in-time counts and Homeless Management Information Systems on all persons accessing emergency shelter and transitional housing; however, homeless singles and adults in families were always reported by HUD together (figures 2 and 4) complicating research on effective housing and service options. Additionally, the unique needs of children and the family unit have been continuously left out of the discussion. Without proper data and a thorough understanding of the inherent interconnectedness between subgroups, it is impossible to effectively determine and meet the needs of these homeless families and their collective members.

Figure 1

Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, The 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.

Figure 2
Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD's 2010 CoC Homeless Assistance Programs—Homeless Populations and Subpopulations.
Figure 4

Mental Illness

One-quarter (24.8%) of adults in families residing in permanent supportive housing, roughly the same rate as individuals (24.0%), have a mental illness (figure 1).[i] For mothers of children under the age of four, socioeconomic status is strongly associated with mental health; one-third (33.4%) of mothers in the lowest household income distribution experience depressive symptoms, compared to 9.2% of mothers in the highest fifth.[ii] Homelessness is further correlated with mental illness. Among homeless mothers in a Massachusetts study, the rate of psychiatric disability was almost three times higher than that of their housed counterparts.[iii]

Maternal psychological distress is negatively related with homeless children’s emotional and behavioral health, although more research on long-term outcomes is necessary. Homeless families with mental illness experience more long-term homelessness than non-mentally ill families, as well as greater risk of separation from their children. Mental illness also increases vulnerability to physical health problems by impairing families’ ability to maintain self-care and practice risk reduction.[iv]

Figure 4

Data are classified using quintiles.

Source. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD's 2010 CoC Homeless Assistance Programs—Homeless Populations and Subpopulations.

Substance Abuse

Adults in families living in permanent supportive housing have higher rates of substance abuse than individuals (14.8% and 11.0%, respectively) and yet there is a shortage of comprehensive residential treatment facilities for mothers with children (figure 1).[v] Homeless mothers have a higher lifetime rate of substance abuse than that of housed low-income mothers (41.1% versus 34.7%), which is twice that of women in the general population (20.3%).[vi] Families living in poverty often use drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms, with negative consequences for their children. Parental substance abuse is a contributing factor for between one and two-thirds of children in the child welfare system.[vii] Babies born to mothers who abuse drugs and alcohol have a heightened risk of low birth weight and serious medical and neurobehavioral problems.[viii] Substance abuse is also associated with violence; a Los Angeles County study revealed that homeless women who experienced either physical or sexual violence were three times more likely (24.3%) to abuse drugs and alcohol than women who were not victimized (7.9%).[ix]


[i] U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, The 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.

[ii] Robert Kahn, et al., “State Income Inequality, Housing Income, and Maternal Mental and Physical Health: Cross Sectional National Survey,” British Medicine Journal 321, no. 7,272 (2000): 1,311–1,315.

[iii] John C. Buckner, et al., “Mental Health Issues Affecting Homeless Women: Implications for Intervention,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 63, no. 3 (1993): 385–399.

[iv] National Health Care for the Homeless Council, HIV/AIDS & Homelessness: Recommendations for Clinical Practice and Public Policy, February 2000.

[v] U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, The 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.

[vi] Ellen Bassuk, et al., “Prevalence of Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders Among Homeless and Low-income Housed Mothers,” American Journal of Psychiatry 155, no. 11 (1998): 1,561–1,564.

[vii] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Blending Perspectives and Building Common Ground: A Report to Congress on Substance Abuse and Child Protection, April 1999.

[viii] Linda Weinreb, “Substance Abuse: A Growing Problem Among Homeless Families,” Family Community Health 13, no. 1 (1990): 55– 64.

[ix] Susan Wenzel, et al., “Antecedents of Physical and Sexual Victimization Among Homeless Women: A Comparison to Homeless Men,” American Journal of Community Psychology 28, no. 3 (2000): 367–390.


Meeting the Child Care Needs of Homeless Families: How Do States Stack Up?
8/2014

The American Almanac at a Glance
10/2013

A Theory of Poverty Destabilization: Why Low-income Families Become Homeless in New York City
6/2013


Percent of Homeless Adults in Permanent Supportive Housing in Subpopulations (2010)
(by household composition)


Percent of Homeless Adults in Subpopulations (2010)
(by housing status)


Interconnectedness of Homeless Subpopulations

Visit Our Other Sites: Quick Links:  

44 Cooper Square
New York, NY 10003
(212) 358-8086

E-mail ICPH | www.ICPHusa.org