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Homeless Families

Causes Of Family Homelessness

A major cause of family homelessness in the urban centers of North America and Western Europe is the shortage of affordable housing. Cities have been transformed from manufacturing to service-based economies, and offices, retail complexes, and luxury high-rise apartments have replaced low-rent housing. A widely used word for this process is gentrification, a term introduced by Glass (1964), to describe the phenomenon in the 1960s whereby the British gentry bought and renovated old buildings in London.

The problem of the dearth of affordable housing is compounded by the large percentage of family income that poor families spend on rent. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless (1999) and the National Low Income Housing Coalition (1998), a minimum wage earner would have to work eighty-seven hours per week in a median cost state in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the 30 percent of one's income that is considered affordable by the U.S. government. If a family receives the financial assistance program Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), the family will be at or below the federal poverty level and will therefore compete for the limited number of public housing or rent-subsidized housing units available.

One productive method of uncovering causes of family homelessness is to look for two similar societies that have very different rates of family homelessness. Working alone and together in Hartford, Connecticut, and Quebec City, Quebec, Irene Glasser, Louise Fournier, and André Costopolous (1999) found that although both cities have a homeless population, Quebec City has approximately one-tenth the number of people living in its short-term and long-term shelter beds as has Hartford, and no apparent family homelessness.

The most obvious explanation for the absence of family homelessness in Quebec is the larger number of safety net programs in the province of Quebec and in Canada in general. With the greater amount and availability of financial assistance, a family is able to find and keep its housing despite The presence of children among the homeless gives a sense of urgency to the problem of homelessness and calls attention to society's failure to guarantee adequate protection to families. TONY FREEMAN/PHOTOEDIT emergencies such as the loss of a job or family separations. An alternative hypothesis is that families with severe problems are separated by the child protection authorities sooner and more frequently in Quebec, and therefore to do not present themselves as homeless families.

In addition to the structural problems of lack of affordable housing and very low income from welfare or work, families also face personal problems that may push them into homelessness. For example, fleeing domestic violence is one path to homelessness. A victim (most often a woman) may first take refuge in a domestic violence shelter, but when the crisis is resolved, and she still has no housing, she may have to move into a homeless shelter (Glasser and Zywiak 2000). Further, addiction to alcohol or drugs may affect parents, severely interfering with their ability to house their family. Moving into a shelter may be considered a first step in treatment, especially if the shelter has the ability to diagnose the addiction and facilitate treatment.

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