Service and Housing Interventions for Families in Transition (SHIFT) Study - Final Report

The SHIFT (Service and Housing Interventions for Families in Transition) Study examined longitudinal outcomes among families experiencing homelessness and entering an emergency shelter, transitional housing, or permanent supportive housing program.

Infographic: Homeless mothers experience disproportionate violenceThe National Center on Family Homelessness interviewed mothers three times—at baseline, 15 months and 30 months—about demographics, history of homelessness, income, benefits, employment, education, physical health, trauma history, mental health, substance use, parenting, services received, and their children’s physical health, behavioral problems, mental health and education. Most mothers were in their 20’s, never married, with two or three children. The majority of the mothers were African-American; one quarter were Caucasian; and 14 percent were Latina or “other.” More than one-third had no high-school degree or GED.

Major findings include:

Ongoing residential instability:

  • 87 percent of families moved multiple times in the 18 months prior to entering a housing program.
  • After 30 months, more than half of the families were still residentially unstable. Families in emergency shelter programs experienced the highest rates of instability, followed by transitional housing and permanent supportive housing.

Significant traumatic experiences

  • 93 percent of mothers had a history of trauma—81 percent having experienced multiple traumas. The most common trauma experienced was interpersonal violence (e.g. physical and/or sexual abuse).
  • Approximately half of the mothers met diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD symptom severity in the mothers impacted residential stability. While residential instability at 15 months was predicted by factors related to ability to earn an income (e.g., unemployment, poor health), at 30 months, the only predictors were maternal trauma symptom severity and lower self-esteem.

High rates of major depressive symptoms among the mothers

  • The majority of mothers reported major depressive symptoms.

Physical and emotional problems among the children

  • Many children struggled with physical and emotional problems throughout the study.
  • Poor child outcomes were predicted by maternal major depressive symptoms.

Findings indicate that an effective response to family homelessness by housing and homeless programs should include the following package of essential supports:

  • Housing in a setting appropriate for each family
  • Comprehensive needs assessments to target services
  • Trauma-informed approach for all services
  • Case management to address income, education and employment
  • Parenting skill training and supports
  • Services to address maternal depression and post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Child-focused programs and service planning to support health, well-being and academic success

The National Center on Family Homelessness conducted the study in Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse, and Albany, NY from 2007 to 2010. It is representative of mid-sized cities nationwide and was funded by the Marie C. & Joseph C. Wilson Foundation.

Learn more about the study and its findings.

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