The Bassuk Center

Federal Policy on Family Homelessness Is Failing

A report on family homelessness from the Bassuk Center asserts that federal policy will not meet the government’s goal of ending family homelessness by 2020.

Services Matter: How Housing and Services Can End Family Homelessness contends that federal policy is failing because the government views family homelessness solely as a housing problem, instead of resulting from complex interactions among economic and social factors, and family circumstances.

“Housing is essential to ending family homelessness, but it is not sufficient,” said Ellen L Bassuk, M.D. of the Bassuk Center. “Along with affordable housing, families need basic services, including physical safety, child care, transportation, work and educational opportunities, help with parenting, and health and mental health care for parents and children.”

The typical American family experiencing homelessness is comprised of a young woman alone with her two young children, many below the age of six. African Americans are disproportionately represented. The mothers in these circumstances have few job opportunities due to limited education and workplace experiences.

More than 90% of these mothers have experienced physical and sexual abuse as children, and domestic violence as adults. Not surprisingly, many of the mothers suffer from clinical depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The children have high rates of health and mental health problems, and struggle in school.

The report presents results of a national survey of more than 900 service providers from all 50 states who work with homeless families in their local communities. Among the survey’s findings:

• 93% of providers agree that most families need services and supports to remain stably housed.
• 88% agree that trauma experienced by mothers, such as domestic violence, is a common cause of family homelessness.
• 91% agree that mental health and substance use services must be part of the solution.
• Only 14% say that housing alone can end family homelessness.

“Service providers around the country are seeing more and more families becoming homeless,” Bassuk said. “There is striking consensus from local communities that these families need both housing and services to remain stably housed. This matches up strongly with decades of research about family homelessness.”

The report offers a comprehensive solution to family homelessness based on three decades of research and best practices implemented by local communities. Exemplary programs from local communities are profiled in the report to illustrate the essential components of this solution. These components include:

1. Permanent affordable housing
2. Education, job training, and income supports
3. Assessment of the needs of parents and children
4. Trauma-informed care
5. Recognition and treatment of depression in mothers
6. Family preservation
7. Parenting supports
8. Children’s development and mental health needs

“The solution is at hand and is already being implemented in some communities,” Bassuk concluded. “But local communities cannot do this alone. We hope this report starts a grassroots effort that gives service providers a united voice to demand decisive federal action that will end this national tragedy.”

The Bassuk Center supports communities as they provide stable housing, wellness, and opportunity for marginalized families, children, and youth. By focusing on trauma and mental health, our solutions stabilize vulnerable people in their communities, and promote healthy child development.