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Institutional Ties and Homeless Family Trajectories: How Homeless Mothers Engage with Policy to Create Opportunities for Mobility

posted Jun 19, 2017, 3:07 AM by Naomi Naghi   [ updated Jun 30, 2017, 12:54 AM ]
Alex Trillo1, Giovani Burgos, & Michael Schwartz
Journal of Social Research & Policy
Volume: 7, Issue: 2, pp. 41-62
Date: December 2016
ISSN: 2067-2640 (print), 2068-9861 (electronic)

Abstract: This paper examines an understudied problem in homeless literature: the factors that affect a family’s ability to transition from a shelter to stable housing. Studies of homeless family trajectories are few and focus on the effects of individuals’ biographical characteristics, with little examination of the contexts or institutional confines in which family homelessness occurs. Most studies also assume that parents are passive service recipients who readily accept, and who do not shape, the institutional policies they encounter. This study shows that homeless parents actively navigate poverty and seek a better place to raise their families. We use qualitative data to generate a series of propositions about the dynamics of homeless trajectories – including parent logics and the ways they dynamically engage with policy amenities. We also consider the policy responses that may happen midstream in the housing search. We then test these propositions with quantitative data on trajectories. The results confirm that links to institutions play an important role in the process of exiting homelessness, but disconfirm the proposition that institutions do so by simply enhancing the biographical characteristics of their clients. Instead, these programs create spaces for fruitful relationships between homeless parents and resourceful social service workers who facilitate their entrée into the housing search process in an informal, and often unanticipated, manner. We use our results to inform an unrealized policy shift to Housing First policy – the idea that homeless parents should be housed first, and then be provided with relevant services to help them secure housing, and not conversely. 

Keywords: Poverty; Homelessness; Social Policy; Services; Homeless Trajectories; Social Capital.  


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