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Homeless Families

Prevalence Of Family Homelessness

It is difficult to ascertain the numbers of homeless families. Few countries systematically enumerate the homeless in their national censuses, and unless the families reside in a public shelter, they are difficult to locate. Homeless families may not want to be found for fear of involvement of child welfare authorities. Furthermore, it is not known how many families are doubled up, sleep in vacant buildings, or separate due to lack of housing. At times the single female homeless person may be a woman who has recently lost custody of her children, and this may also mask the true prevalence of homeless families.

What proportion of the homeless population in the United States is comprised of families? Census 2000 counted 170,706 individuals living in emergency and transitional shelters for the homeless, out of a total US population of 281,421,906, or .6 percent of the population (Smith and Smith 2001). Of this number approximately 25.7 percent were under eighteen years old. The 1996 National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (NSHAPC) (Burt et al. 1999) gathered information on homelessness from a statistical sample of homeless-serving agencies in the US and found that 15 percent of all homeless households were families consisting of a homeless individual with one or more minor children with them. However, if one considers all homeless individuals including minor children, then 34 percent of homeless people found at homeless assistance program were members of homeless families. Of the minor children living with their homeless parent, 20 percent were infants and toddlers (up to age two), 22 percent were preschoolers (ages three to five), 33 percent were elementary school age (six to twelve) and 20 percent were adolescents (twelve to seventeen) (National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients NSHAPC 1999).

Most research on homeless families is conducted in emergency shelters for families. This poses the question of whether we are actually studying the services for the homeless rather than the phenomenon itself. It then becomes necessary to ask, if many communities are more comfortable in providing services for homeless families than for single people, whether it is correct to conclude that a large proportion of the homeless population are living in families.

Worldwide, the United Nations estimates that one billion people live in conditions of inadequate shelter or literal homelessness. Most of these people are families who are driven to living in squatter settlements due to rural-to-urban migration, severe unemployment and underemployment, and the existence of large numbers of refugees and victims of disasters (United Nations Centre for Human Settlement 1990; Glasser 1994; Bascom 1993).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesHomeless Families - Prevalence Of Family Homelessness, Causes Of Family Homelessness, Adaptations To Homelessness, Contrasting The Poor-but-housed With Homeless Families