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Homeless Families

Programs That House Homeless Families

Shelters. Shelters are low-barrier, easy access congregate living for families for a short period of time (two to three months). They are frequently administered by community organizations, and their major form of treatment is case management, which seeks to re-house the family. Family shelters are usually dry—no drug or alcohol use. They may require that the adults be involved in substance-abuse treatment, mental health counseling, education, or job training, or be employed. A real problem for families living in shelters is that many family shelters bar fathers and adolescent boys from staying with the families, in effect splitting up the family (Susser 1993; Friedman 2000).

Transitional and supportive housing. In the United States, by the mid-1980s, a pattern was developing in which at least some of the homeless population experienced repeated episodes of shelter living. Many people were not able to make the transition from shelter to apartment living and were in need of more support in order to maintain permanent housing. This support came in the form of transitional housing, which generally consists of housing with two years of services; and supportive housing, which is housing with the provision of services for an open-ended period of time. Transitional and supportive housing may be provided in one physical space, or they may be provided in scattered apartments in publicly or privately owned buildings, with services brought in to the families. In many communities, these programs are better tolerated than shelters, which are often viewed with fear and suspicion.

An interesting approach to transitional housing is finding foster families for homeless families. Utilizing their experience in providing foster care to children, and noting the lack of social support and sense of isolation that was found in homeless families, the Human Service Associates (HAS), a private, nonprofit, child-placing agency in St. Paul, Minnesota, placed thirty-four families with host families (Cornish 1992). An evaluation of the project found that 60 percent of the foster families coresided with the host family for a period of four to six months, then moved into their own housing, and were still in their own housing six months later.

Homesteading. As in the pioneer frontier days of the United States and Canada, urban homesteading represents one strategy for providing housing. An example of contemporary homesteading is Harding Park, located on the waterfront in the Bronx, New York, a twenty-acre community, which now has 250 small homes on it. The area, which had been a weekend campsite for apartment dwellers since the early 1900s, became a refuge for mostly Puerto Rican residents living in high-crime neighborhoods in the Bronx, who found a tract of dilapidated shacks at the water's edge. The area was reminiscent of the fishing villages of Puerto Rico, and through their own labor and materials, and with permission from the City of New York, these modern homesteaders turned the shacks into habitable houses (Glasser and Bridgman 1999).

Eviction prevention. One strategy that prevents homelessness among families is resolving landlord-tenant disputes to avoid evictions. An example is the Tenancy Settlement/Mediation Program in Passaic County, New Jersey, an area with a declining amount of residential housing, a deteriorating economic base, and high rates of poverty and public assistance. The program is staffed by social workers trained in mediation and serves sixteen municipalities with a combined population of 500,000 people. In 1990, approximately 1,300 tenancy disputes were successfully settled, which reflects an 89.5 percent success rate (Curcio 1992).

Community development of squatter settlements. Some developing countries have programs that enable squatter settlements to upgrade their housing, bring in essential services (potable water, sanitation, and electricity), and secure the individual's right to remain in the housing. The World Bank is one of the leaders in the lending of money for squatter upgrading projects, which usually feature a strong self-help component. In some parts of the world, households get together to build each other's houses; in others, the household hires people to work for them; in still others, the household builds the house on its own (Keare and Parris 1982).

One successful example of squatter upgrading has been the Kampung Improvement Programme in Jakarta, Indonesia. A kampung is a village, but in Jakarta it refers to urban settlements on swampy land, subject to serious flooding. The Kampung Improvement Programme provided eighty-seven kampungs (more than one million people) with clean water, canals to mitigate flooding, improved roads and concrete paths, communal sanitation, and a system of garbage disposal. A World Bank Loan in 1974 added schools and health clinics. One major finding of this project was that bringing these services to the community inspired individual householders to improve their dwellings (Oliver 1987).

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