The effects of homelessness on families are life altering. Most families who experience homelessness include a mother and her children. Sometimes homeless families include the father, but it is less common. Families experiencing homelessness typically live in a few places:
- Places not fit for human habitation like cars, abandoned buildings, or on the streets
- Doubled-up with other people
A small minority of families who are homeless live in cars, on the streets, or in other places not fit for human habitation. This can be dangerous, incredibly uncomfortable, and in some places, illegal.
Some families are “doubled up”, living with family or friends. It may mean that they are rolling out sleeping bags in hallways or on couches each night. They may be living with people they don’t know very well. Or there may just be too many people for the living space. Privacy is very rare.
Effects of Homelessness: Families in Shelters
Many homeless families live in shelters run by a city, county, church, or a community group. In some shelters, families eat in a cafeteria, share living space, and have a bedroom to themselves (like a dorm). Others may offer families their own room with a shared cooking and living space. In some cases, families have an apartment to themselves.
Shelter living can be tough. There is very little privacy. Families have one small room to themselves. Imagine opening your fridge and having another family’s food in it (which you’re not allowed to touch). In some places, children aren’t even allowed in the kitchen, for safety reasons. There are often many rules that they have to obey. In some cases, though, living in a shelter gives families a little bit of stability. They know where they are going to sleep each night. There are often people who work at the shelter who can help their family get back on their feet.
No matter where they are living, families who are homeless often have had experiences with trauma and violence. Nearly all mothers who are homeless have experienced some kind of violence—either as children or adults, and often both. This may include physical or sexual abuse and intimate partner (aka domestic) violence. As a result, many are struggling with depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and other mental health issues. Of course, this impacts their children—who may themselves struggle.
Children who experience homelessness are more likely to become homeless as adults. Separation from their parents, struggles in school, and mental health challenges are common factors for homeless children. Additionally, the stigma of being homeless and the anxiety that comes with having an uncertain living situation weighs heavily on them.