Social Support of Homeless and Housed Mothers: A Comparison of Temporary and Permanent Housing Arrangements

Many studies have been done to explain the reasons surrounding the causes and characteristics of homeless mothers in shelter. One study interviewed 115 low-income housed mothers and 92 homeless mothers living in emergency shelters, transitional housing units and doubled up arrangements and found key differences among the mothers that may explain significant factors that contribute to homelessness.

Social support is found to be a critical buffer to negative effects of stress, assisting in positive coping and improving family functioning. When one lacks the necessary social support their chances of becoming homeless increases dramatically. Researchers in this study measured social embeddedness, perceived availability of support, and enacted support. This study was unique in that it compared the level of social support in three different housing arrangements.

Most of the mothers sampled in this study were African American and met the low-income eligibility guidelines set by Head Start, a comprehensive national program designed to enhance the school readiness and health of economically disadvantaged children. The researchers interviewed the women individually and used the Family Support Scale to assess the amount of help given by sources of social support. Other questions, such as “how many friends/relatives do you talk to or see once a week?”And “how many people can you truly count on for help in times of need?”

Although the study was a small sample size and cross-sectional, it did reveal important aspects surrounding homeless mothers. Similar to past studies, researchers found that homeless mothers within emergency shelter and transitional housing had smaller social supports and perceived and received less social support than housed mothers.

This study demonstrates that it is critical for mothers to establish strong connections with familial and professional sources of support. It is important for professionals to help homeless mothers expand their social networks to include their family, in addition to friends, people in the community and other mothers within the shelter.

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