Poster Paper: Ensuring the Service Needs of Homeless Families and Their Children Are Met

Friday, November 4, 2016
Columbia Ballroom (Washington Hilton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jill Khadduri, Abt Associates, Inc. and Lauren Dunton, Abt Associates

This paper uses data collected from a national study involving 2,282 homeless families with children who entered shelter between late 2010 and early 2012 to consider how to meet the social services needs of homeless families. Study families were recruited in twelve communities across the country. At the time they were recruited, each family had spent at least a week in an emergency shelter. Most families had incomes below 50 percent of the federal poverty level and had significant levels of housing instability, weak work histories, and disabilities affecting both parents and children. Most had either one or two children with them in shelter, and half the families included at least one child under the age of three.  

The study followed the families for 20 months and surveyed them again, collecting information including sources of income, use of benefit programs, changes to the family’s composition, and further episodes of homelessness. The 20-month survey also measured indicators of well-being such as the health and mental health of adults and children and the family’s economic security. The study selected up to two focal children per family and collected data through parent reports, testing, and interviews with older children.  

Homeless families in shelter appear to be as connected to the safety net as other poor families. Homeless families participated in TANF cash assistance, publicly funded health insurance programs (Medicaid, CHIP, or other state-funded programs), and SNAP at similar or higher rates than other deeply poor families in the same communities. Twenty months after being in shelter, most families were no longer homeless. However, they remained poor and continued to receive public benefits. Families did not appear to lose their connection to social safety net programs in the 20 months following an episode of homelessness. Receipt of TANF cash assistance dropped, but families continued to use publicly funded health insurance and SNAP at high rates and used SSI and SSDI at higher rates.  

Children and adolescents in homeless families need and benefit from the assistance of social services as well. Three- and four-year-olds in families with recent episodes of homelessness were in early education or center-based care at rates higher than all children in families below the poverty line. Children had lower risks for behavior problems 20 month after a shelter stay if their families had more stable living situations and the children had more stable child care arrangements. Children ages three and four who were enrolled in Head Start or other early education or center-based child care displayed strong math and reading readiness skills. Twenty months after staying in an emergency shelter with their families, adolescents exhibited more behavior problems, less positive behavior, and more chronic school absence than their peers nationally. Increased school mobility following a family shelter stay was associated with reduced school performance and increased problem behavior.