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backgrounds of both single individuals and parents of families who enter shelter.
But it is not clear that programs to ameliorate domestic conflicts would reduce
homelessness among adults. Universal strategies to prevent domestic violence,
child abuse, and foster care placements (e.g., by changing norms of acceptable
behavior, punishing perpetrators, and providing support and education to parents)
would, if successful, reduce these risk factors for homelessness, although they are
probably better justified on other grounds. Indicated programs to support families
who come to the attention of protective services, if successful in reducing family
conflict and out-of-home placements, might have special benefits for adolescents,
for whom family conflict and abuse are often immediate precursors of homeless-
ness (Robertson & Toro, 1999). Unfortunately, there is little evidence that such
programs can prevent homelessness. Moreover, as we noted with respect to mental
illness, the majority of abused and placed children do not become homeless.
Designers of indicated interventions for families experiencing domestic conflicts
that have not yet become violent face the almost insurmountably difficult task of
identifying families to which such interventions would apply. Although universal
marriage counseling or parenting classes at the transitions to marriage and
parenting might well be useful on other grounds, it is quite a stretch to recommend
such programs because of their potential to prevent homelessness.
It is even less clear that indicated interventions are advisable to stabilize
households already experiencing domestic violence. Service providers report that
women are reluctant to leave men who abuse them, in part because of their eco-
nomic dependence on the men. The need, therefore, is for more, not fewer, shelters,
psychological services for traumatized mothers and children, and housing and
other resources to help families set up new households. Misguided efforts to get
women to stay with perpetrators of violence in order to avoid homelessness could
lead to injuries and deaths. We know of no studies of programs to ameliorate
domestic violence as a strategy to prevent homelessness and would hope that any-
one who sets one up would look carefully at possible negative consequences.
Abused adolescents may also be better off in alternative residential settings.
To repeat a point made in other contexts: The fact that neither domestic violence
nor childhood abuse and out-of-home placements detracted from the long- term sta-
bility of formerly homeless families who received subsidized housing in New York
city suggests that these factors may contribute to homelessness largely by restricting
housing support of an informal kind. Similarly, the impoverished social ties found in
many, but not all, studies of homelessness (see Shinn et al., 1991, for a review) may
be important because personal network members can provide or subsidize housing.
If housing can be secured by other means (e.g., a government subsidy), it may not be
necessary to address underlying problems in relationships in order to prevent home-
lessness, though such interventions may be perfectly desirable for other reasons.
Thus, although domestic violence and childhood disruptions may predict homeless-
ness, the best preventive effort may still be access to subsidized housing.
The Prevention of Homelessness Revisited