Are Homeless Families Connected to the Social Safety Net?

The study collected data from the families at the time they were recruited in emergency shelters, revealing that these families are often living in deep poverty with significant levels of housing instability, weak work histories, and disabilities affecting both parents and children. The median age of the adults who responded to the survey was 29. 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. Seventy percent included only one adult, almost always the mother. For almost two-thirds of the family heads, this was not the first episode of homelessness in their lives.

The study followed the families over the next 20 months and surveyed them again, collecting a rich set of information about 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. While the Family Options Study sample is not nationally representative, it has broad geographic coverage, and study families are similar in age and gender of parents, number and ages of children, and race and ethnicity to nationally representative samples of sheltered homeless families. Therefore, it is a good sample for studying the experience of families that have an episode of homelessness. This is the first in a series of research briefs commissi

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