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SSRC Notes: New approaches for addressing family homelessness

Date Added to Library: 
Tuesday, April 4, 2017 - 21:01
Organizational Author: 
Self-Sufficiency Research Clearinghouse
Individual Author: 
Arkin, Monica
Abdi, Fadumo
Reference Type: 
Published Date: 
Published Date (Date): 
Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Posted by Monica Arkin & Fadumo Abdi, Self-Sufficiency Research Clearinghouse Staff

Family homelessness is pervasive across the United States. During the 2012-2013 school year alone roughly one in every 39, or approximately 1.25 million children experienced homelessness. Based on recent demographic trends the typical homeless family consists of a young single mother with one or two young children who live “doubled up” in another family’s household. Factors commonly associated with family homelessness are domestic violence, persistent poverty, unemployment, lack of health insurance, and insufficient aid from mainstream benefit programs. Minority families face additional risks for experiencing homelessness, such as institutionalized discrimination and multi-generational poverty, which are linked to disparities in employment, education, and access to quality housing. 

While housing programs and models have been in existence and researched for many years, most have shown only short-term residential stability for families. Rapid rehousing, for example, has been used frequently as an intervention, but there is little evidence of its efficacy in providing long-term residential stability for families. Similarly, the use of permanent housing subsidies has shown promising results in short-term evaluations, but research highlighting long-term findings is not yet available.

To affect lasting change, programs must recognize and address the multiple causes of homelessness, as well as the numerous barriers to becoming self-sufficient faced by homeless families. For some families, homelessness is episodic and can be solved with housing assistance alone. However, families may experience several types of long-term homelessness including chronic homelessness. This occurs when the family has been either homeless for over one year, or on four occasions within the three previous years, and the head of household has a disability, such as a serious mental illness, substance abuse, or developmental or physical disability that impairs self-sufficiency. Long-term homeless families, on the other hand, do not necessarily have a head of household with a disability, but have been homeless for over one year or on multiple occasions within the previous year. Long-term homelessness for these families is typically associated with multiple risk factors and cannot always be solved with housing alone. A report by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness (ICPH) on homeless families in New York City indicated common reasons that families became eligible for shelter were unemployment (over half of the families did not have a single employed household member), domestic violence (accounting for 26 percent of families who went to shelter), and family discord (accounting for 12 percent of families moving to shelter).

Recently, there has been a shift toward a more holistic approach, supplementing housing assistance with other support services. One promising method is called Supportive Housing, which provides affordable housing along with intensive wrap-around services. Supportive housing services acknowledge that housing alone may not prevent homelessness by promoting self-sufficiency and family cohesion, often providing addiction recovery, education, and employment services. Keeping Families Together, a pilot initiative between 2007 and 2010, implemented a supportive housing approach in New York City with families that had been homeless for at least a year and had been involved with the child welfare system. The pilot showed many positive outcomes: child welfare involvement declined significantly among participating families, most families had no new abuse or neglect cases after receiving supportive housing, average school attendance improved, and six children were reunited with their families from foster care. 

The positive findings from Keeping Families Together led policymakers to launch a federally funded demonstration grant to test the supportive housing model on a wider scale, understand the efficacy of the model, inform strategic use of limited resources, and measure return on investment. The Partnerships to Demonstrate the Effectiveness of Supportive Housing in the Child Welfare Systems multi-site demonstration launched in 2012 as a five-year program awarding four local and one statewide supportive housing pilot sites. Data is currently being collected for the national evaluation. Long-term findings from the multisite demonstration may add important longitudinal evidence to the efficacy of supportive housing in various communities across the nation.  

The SSRC Library contains numerous reports and stakeholder resources about family homelessness, including:
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