This study tests a typology of family homelessness based on patterns of public shelter utilization and examines whether family characteristics are associated with those patterns. The results indicate that a substantial majority of homeless families stay in public shelters for relatively brief periods, exit, and do not return. Approximately 20 percent stay for long periods. A small but noteworthy proportion cycles in and out of shelters repeatedly. In general, families with long stays are no more likely than families with short stays to have intensive behavioral health treatment histories, to be disabled, or to be unemployed. Families with repeat stays have the highest rates of intensive behavioral health treatment, placement of children in foster care, disability, and unemployment.
The results suggest that policy and program factors, rather than family characteristics, are responsible for long shelter stays. An alternative conceptual framework for providing emergency assistance to homeless families is discussed.
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