Baseline Characteristics of the Research Sample

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Chapter 1. Introduction

1.3 Baseline Characteristics of the Research Sample

At the time of enrollment in the study, all families completed a baseline survey, providing information about their house-hold’s characteristics. This section briefly reviews selected baseline characteristics to provide an overview of study families.

Gubits et al. (2013) provides a more detailed description of the characteristics of the families at the time of enrollment.

To understand how the families in this study compare with the national homeless family population, this section compares the sample with two national estimates of family homelessness. The most recent source of that information is HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR), which uses administrative data collected locally to produce nation-al estimates of the number and characteristics of sheltered homeless families and of people who are in shelter as indi - viduals. AHAR data describe families in shelter in 2010, when enrollment in the Family Options Study began (HUD, 2012). An older (1996) source of information on homeless families is the National Survey of Homeless Assistance

Providers and Clients (NSHAPC; Burt et al., 1999). Although less current, NSHAPC provides survey-based, nationally representative information that is not available in the AHAR on the characteristics and life histories of homeless families.

NSHAPC also includes information on both sheltered and unsheltered families.

Families had to stay in a participating emergency shelter to be considered for enrollment in the Family Options Study (see Chapter 2 for more details about the enrollment pro-cess). Therefore, any eligibility requirements that emergency shelters placed on shelter entry also shaped the sample of families who were included in the study.

The most common restrictions, implemented by emergency shelter programs in 9 of the 12 sites, related to the composition of the family entering emergency shelter. Some programs were not able to accommodate adult men or married couples in their programs because the shelters provided congregate living situations. Other programs served only families with children younger than age 5 or did not accept adolescent- aged children. These eligibility requirements collectively limited the number of men, couples, and older children in

Short-Term Impacts of Housing and Services Interventions for Homeless Families 6 Chapter 1. Introduction

study families. Another eligibility requirement related to domestic violence. Some emergency shelter programs would not accept families fleeing domestic violence, because of con - cerns about their ability to ensure the safety of the families.

The study team would expect that these requirements led to lower numbers of families facing domestic violence at baseline than otherwise might have been the case.

A typical family in the study consisted of a woman about 29 years old who had one or two children with her in the shelter (see Exhibit 1-2). More than one adult was present in 30 percent of families at baseline, and, in most instances, the second adult was the spouse or partner of the adult respondent. Nationwide, 78 percent of adults in sheltered families are women. The share of men in sheltered families has increased substantially since 2007, probably because increasing numbers of family shelters can accommodate them.

A plurality of families in the study (43 percent) had only one child younger than age 18 present, and another 30

percent had two children with them in the shelter. One-half of families included a child younger than age 3, and nearly 10 percent of adult respondents reported that they were pregnant at baseline. In study families, older children were more likely than younger children to be living separately from their parent who was in emergency shelter at the time of enrollment.

Characteristics of the study families are similar to character-istics of homeless families nationwide. Many families who become homeless have young children.

Rates of sheltered homelessness are higher for infants and other preschool children than for any other age group: 0.8 percent of infants younger than 12 months and 0.7 percent of children 1 to 5 years stayed in shelters and transitional housing programs over the course of the year.17 Slightly over one-half of children in homeless families are younger than age 6. About one-fourth of all episodes of poverty in the United States start with the birth of a child; the poverty Exhibit 1-2. Family Characteristics: Family Composition

Family Characteristic Percent of Adult Respondents/ Percent of Families/Years Family Composition


Hispanic 20.2

White, non-Hispanic 20.4

African-American, non-Hispanic 40.9

Asian/Pacific Islander, non-Hispanic 7.2

Mixed, non-Hispanic 11.2

Adult respondent is female 91.8

Average age of adult respondent 30.8 years

Median age of adult respondent 29.0 years

Adult respondent is age 24 or younger 27.4

Male adult respondent with no female wife/partner present 3.8

Two or more adults present in shelter 29.8

Second adult: spouse or partner 27.4

Spouse/partner is parent of (at least one) child with family 23.0

Second adult: adult child (age 18 or older) 1.4

Age of adult respondent at random assignment

Less than 21 years old 8.2

21–24 years 19.2

25–29 years 24.0

30–34 years 18.5

35–44 years 22.3

45 years and older 7.8

Number of children present in shelter

1 child 43.2

2 children 30.2

3 children 15.3

4 or more children 11.2

At least one child younger than age 3 50.4

Mother is pregnant 9.8

Source: Family Options Study baseline survey

17 Calculated from AHAR for persons in shelter between October 2011 and September 2012 and U.S. Census Statistics for 2012.

results from forgone earnings and costs of care and from the need to stretch available income over more mouths to feed (Waldfogel, 2001). Thus, homelessness unsurprisingly is also more common among families with a newborn or preschool-aged child (Rog and Gutman, 1997; Weitzman, 1989).

The racial characteristics of families in the study sample are similar to those of homeless families nationwide, with an overrepresentation of African-Americans when compared with the poverty population overall (HUD, 2012). Approx-imately 41 percent of study families are African-American and not Hispanic or Latino, and 20 percent are Hispanic or Latino (all races). About 20 percent of the study families identified as White, non-Hispanic/non-Latino.

Another characteristic measured by the baseline survey was a family’s past housing stability and history of homelessness.

Exhibit 1-3 shows the baseline characteristics of the families on these measures. Most families in the study were not home - less immediately before entering the shelter from which they were recruited into the study. Only 21 percent described their preshelter living situation in a way that would be defined by HUD as homeless.18 This rate is similar to the national rate of 24 percent (HUD, 2012). Instead, most families entered

shelter from housing—either their own housing unit or that of a friend or family member. About 63 percent of adult respondents in the study had experienced homelessness at some other point in their lifetime, with about 16 percent of adult respondents having experienced homelessness as a child. The majority of adult respondents (85 percent) indi - cated that they were doubled up at some point as an adult (defined as “staying with family or friends because you couldn’t find or afford a place of your own”).

National figures are not available for comparing the prior homelessness of the study sample to that of all homeless families in 2013. The rate is greater, however, than that meas - ured in NSHAPC, which was 50 percent (Burt et al., 1999).

Part of the difference may be explained by the fact that the NSHAPC survey was conducted about 15 years before this study’s baseline enrollment period. Many of the adults sur - veyed in NSHAPC had come of age at a time when homeless - ness was less common. In addition, in an effort to target the study to families with at least moderate needs, all families in this study had been in shelter for at least 7 days.

Of the adult respondents in this study’s sample, 27 percent had lived in foster care, a group home, or some institutional setting as a child. NSHAPC showed very similar patterns

Exhibit 1-3. Family Characteristics: Housing Stability and History of Homelessness

Family Characteristic Percent of Adult Respondents

Housing instability and history of homelessness Housing immediately before shelter stay

Owned or rented house or apartment 25.7

With friends or relatives, not paying rent 24.9

With friends or relatives, paying rent 21.1

Homelessa 20.5

Hotel or motel, paid by self 4.2

Partner’s place 2.9

Treatment or permanent housing program 1.1

Homeless history

Previous episode of homelessness 62.9

Total homelessness in life Median: 6 months

Doubled up history

Ever doubled up as adult because could not pay rent 84.7

Time doubled up past 5 yearsb Median: 1 year

Childhood instability

Homeless as child 16.1

Foster care, group home, or institution as child 27.1

a Living situations included in the definition of homeless are other emergency shelter (6.8 percent), voucher hotel or motel (4.0 percent), car or vehicle (3.1 percent), transitional housing (2.8 percent), domestic violence shelter (1.9 percent), anywhere outdoors. (1.6 percent), and abandoned building (0.2 percent).

b Time doubled up in past 5 years or time doubled up since age 18 for those ages 18 to 22 years.

Source: Family Options Study baseline survey

18 Living situations considered to indicate literal homelessness are emergency shelter, voucher hotel or motel, car or vehicle, transitional housing, domestic violence shelter, anywhere outdoors, and abandoned building. This definition is consistent with the current HUD definition of homelessness, which includes living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or public or private places not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings. See 24 CFR 91.5(1)(ii), the homeless definition final rule.

Short-Term Impacts of Housing and Services Interventions for Homeless Families 8 Chapter 1. Introduction

of childhood housing instability among people who sub-sequently became homeless, with about 25 percent of the adults in homeless families reporting that they had been in foster care, a group home, or another institutional setting as a child (Burt et al., 2001).

The baseline survey also included questions about the fam-ily’s income and employment status (see Exhibit 1-4). Most adult respondents in the study were not working at the time of enrollment (83 percent), and more than one-half had not worked for pay in the previous 6 months. Approximately 45 percent had not worked in more than a year, and 30 percent had not worked in the past 2 years. For the 17 percent who were working at the time of enrollment, median hours at their main job were 30 hours a week. Looking at the employ - ment of all adults in the family, about 22 percent of families

had one adult working (either the adult respondent or another adult family member). The median household income of all families in this study was $7,410 at the baseline survey.

Most families in the study were receiving some form of public assistance at the time of the baseline survey. Eighty-eight percent of families in the study received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), 41 percent received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and 10 percent received Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for someone in the family. Many families in the study received Medicaid benefits (60 percent), state health insurance benefits (23 percent), or State Children’s Health Insurance (SCHIP;

32 percent). About 86 percent of families participated in at least one of these health insurance programs.

Exhibit 1-4. Family Characteristics: Income Stability and Disability

Family Characteristic Percent of Adult Respondents/Percent of Families Income stability and disability

Employment history of adult respondentsa

No work past 1 week 82.9

No work past 6 months 57.1

No work past 1 year 45.0

No work past 2 years 30.3

Job characteristics for 17 percent of adult respondents who are working

Earnings at main job Median: $11,960

Hours per week at main job Median: 30.0

Employment of adults in family

One adult working for pay 22.3

Two adults working for pay 2.1

Total family income during the past year

20th percentile $2,880

50th percentile (median) $7,410

80th percentile $15,000

Public program participation

SNAP (food stamps) receipt 87.8

TANF receipt 41.4

SSI receipt 9.5

UI receipt 7.2

Child support receipt 14.2

WIC receipt 36.2

Medicaid receipt 60.0

State health insurance receipt 22.6

SCHIP receipt 32.4

At least one of Medicaid, state health insurance, or SCHIP receipt 86.2

Disability status

Disability and/or disabled family member 38.7

Adult respondent has disability that limits or prevents work 21.3

Nonhead age 15+ has disability that limits or prevents work 7.0

Child younger than age 15 has disability 17.2

SCHIP = State Children’s Health Insurance Program. SNAP = Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SSI = Supplemental Security Income. TANF = Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. UI = unemployment insurance. WIC = Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

a Rows are not mutually exclusive.

Source: Family Options Study baseline survey

Families in this study have a high rate of self-reported disabil-ity. Thirty-nine percent of families have at least one family member with a self-reported disability. About 21 percent of adult respondents said that they have a disability that would limit or prevent them working, and 7 percent of families have a family member age 15 or older with a disability that limits or prevents him or her from working.

Study families faced multiple barriers to increasing income or finding housing, as shown in Exhibit 1-5. Forty-nine percent of adult respondents in this study reported that they had experienced physical abuse or been threatened with vi-olence by a spouse or partner at some time as adults. Other studies have shown even higher rates of domestic violence.

For example, Bassuk et al. (1996) report results of a study of homeless and housed mothers receiving public assistance in Worcester, Massachusetts, indicating that 63 percent of homeless mothers, and almost as high a percentage of those who had not become homeless (58 percent), reported that they had been severely physically assaulted by an intimate partner as an adult. The Worcester study asked a detailed series of questions about such incidents as being slapped repeatedly, hit with a fist, hit with an object, or threatened with a knife or gun, whereas the baseline survey for this study asked only one general question about physical abuse or threats of violence.

Mental health and substance use issues are frequently iden - tified as barriers that people experiencing homelessness face.

These issues are more prevalent among homeless individuals than they are among homeless families, whereas employment status and broader economic challenges are more often iden - tified as the central cause of family homelessness (Rog and Buckner, 2007). A history of drug use within the past year was identified by 14 percent of adult respondents, and 11 percent responded to survey questions in a way that suggested alcohol abuse within the past year.19 These rates are substan-tially lower than those reported to NSHAPC by homeless adults in families (38 percent for drug use problems and 18 percent for alcohol use problems within the past year; Burt et al., 2001). In another study of homeless families, Rog and Buckner (2007) reported that 12 percent of adult respondents had used illicit drugs in the past year.

Approximately 22 percent of adult respondents gave survey responses that indicate symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 22 percent reported symptoms of serious psychological distress, and 30 percent reported evidence of one or the other.20 In the Worcester study, Bassuk et al. (1996) reported similar rates of PTSD symptoms for both the home - less families (18 percent) and housed welfare families (16 percent). The rates of PTSD and serious psychological distress for homeless families are substantially higher than national

Exhibit 1-5. Family Characteristics: Barriers to Increasing Income or Finding Housing

Family Characteristic Percent of Adult Respondents/Percent of Families

Barriers to increasing income or finding housing Exposure to violence and mental health

Domestic violence by spouse or partner as an adult 49.0

PTSD symptoms 21.6

Psychological distress 22.1

Previous housing history—problems finding housing

History of evictiona 25.9 big or small problem

Never a leaseholdera 34.8 big or small problem

Other barriers to housing

Felony conviction of at least one adult family member 14.2

Felony conviction of adult respondent 11.3

Felony conviction of nonhead family member 4.8

Drug abuse 14.1

Alcohol abuse 11.1

PTSD = post-traumatic stress disorder.

a Information was collected on history of eviction and never having been a leaseholder only if the respondent thought these factors presented a problem in finding a place to live.

Source: Family Options Study baseline survey

19 The baseline survey asked for responses to the four items in the Rapid Alcohol Problem Screen, or RAPS4 (Cherpitel, 2000). An affirmative answer to any of the four questions indicates an alcohol problem. The baseline survey also asked asked for responses to seven items regarding use of illegal drugs, six of which are included in the Drug Abuse Screening Test, or DAST-10 (Skinner, 1982). An affirmative answer to any of these seven questions indicates a drug problem.

20 About 14 percent of adult respondents have both PTSD symptoms and high psychological distress.

Short-Term Impacts of Housing and Services Interventions for Homeless Families 10 Chapter 1. Introduction

rates of PTSD (5.2 percent for women and 1.8 percent for men) (NCS-R, 2005)21 and serious psychological distress (3.9 percent for women and 2.9 percent for men) (CDC, 2012).22 Families enrolled in the study also reported that they had poor rental history (26 percent had been evicted) or that they had never been a leaseholder at all (35 percent).23 Some families (14 percent) reported that at least one adult in the family had been convicted of a felony for drugs or other offenses. In 11 percent of families, the adult respondent reported having a felony conviction.

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