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Health-related risk factors of homeless families and single adults

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Using data from two cross-sectional surveys, we examine how homeless adults living with children differ in sociodemographic characteristics, adverse childhood experiences, and addictive and psychiatric disorders from homeless adults who are not living with children. The surveys were conducted in late 1989 and early 1990 in Santa Clara County, California. Women (n=100) and men (n=41) with children were sampled from the two largest family shelters in the County (94% response rate); women (n=169) and men (n=1268) without children were sampled from the three main adult shelters in the County (98% response rate). Adults with children (especially women) were significantly younger, less educated, less likely to have experienced full-time employment, and more likely to have been supported by public assistance before first becoming homeless than adults without children. In addition, adults with children became homeless at younger ages, had been homeless for less time, and were less likely to experience multiple episodes of homelessness. Further differences were found for addictive and psychiatric disorders—adults with children were significantly less likely to enter homelessness with histories of excessive alcohol intake (both men and women) and psychiatric hospitalizations (women only) than adults without children. The distinct risk factor profile of homeless adults living with children renders them a critically important demographic group on which to focus new public health programs and social strategies.

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Author information

Correspondence to Dr. Marilyn A. Winkleby PhD.

Additional information

This research was supported by grants from The Valley Foundation, the Community Foundation of Santa Clara County, the John Arrillaga Foundation, and the Komes Foundation.

We are indebted to Barry Del Buono of the Emergency Housing Consortium and John Hall of the Health Care for the Homeless Project for access to the study population; to Laurie Davis, Diane Fleshin, Rachel Marcus, Laurie Smith, Judy Sherman, and Mary Yang for their contributions in the collection of data; to Dr. Helena Kraemer and Beverly Rockhill for statistical consultation and to Dr. Erica Frank for advice on the manuscript.

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Winkleby, M.A., Thomas Boyce, W. Health-related risk factors of homeless families and single adults. J Community Health 19, 7–23 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02260518

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  • Psychiatric Hospitalization
  • Adverse Childhood
  • Public Assistance
  • Public Health Program
  • Multiple Episode