Homeless Women with Children: Qualitative Analysis

Homeless women with children are increasing in the United States. In the 2010 school year, the number of homeless families reached an all-time high. Additionally, more than 1.6 million children (1 in 45) are homeless each year in the United States (Bassuk and Beardslee, 2014).

I spent this past year as a school social work intern for an elementary and middle school in the Bay Area of California. I would often meet students, or have staff tell me about students, whose families were homeless and living in either shelters, motels, or with multiple relatives.

What was the experience like for the student: How did they get to and from school? What did they do after school every day? Were they able to do homework and participate in other school activities?

I also noticed how this issue could have been so easily overlooked. Each student’s situation was invisible to me until it was reported by others. Majority of homeless families have young children and are headed by a single parent mother. This is a significant fact to be taken into account when attempting to address the needs of families experiencing homelessness. (Swick and Williams, 2010). As reported by the National Coalition for the Homeless (2015),

“Homelessness is a devastating experience for families”. I also found myself increasingly wanting to know more about this experience. Especially in the context of the school setting in which I was working.


Mothers Experiencing Homelessness: Unmet needs and challenges


The fact that there is a growing number of homeless families whose head is single-parent mothers is of no doubt.  However, as pointed out by Swick and Williams (2010), most of the research focuses on factors that precipitate family homelessness. Milligan (2013) explains, “The majority of prior research regarding homeless mothers is quantitative by design and focus primarily on the demographics and characteristics of shelter conditions” (p. 3).

There is a lack of information that includes the perspectives of these homeless women themselves on their experience and unmet needs. A few studies attempt to gather this information. All of which use semi-structured interviews at homeless shelters. (Dworsky and Meehan, 2012)

In their qualitative study, Dworsky and Meehan (2012) conduct interviews at a homeless 5 shelter for young mothers. Their goal was to find out more about what it is like and means for them to be a parent, and the challenges they face.

Their study is important and relevant. This is because in order to adequately address the needs of homeless adolescent mothers, we need a better understanding of the population. The authors interviewed 27 women between the ages of 16 to 20 years old. They were either current or former residents of a shelter in Chicago.

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