An analysis of North Carolina homeless shelter policies: potential for fracturing the integrity of help-seeking homeless families

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Helen Fuller Spriggs (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Eileen Kohlenberg

Abstract: Families with children, the fastest growing homeless subgroup in the U.S., have recently expanded in size by 35% in North Carolina and 24 other states. Sheltering facilities provide housing and other social supports to 67% of this group. Research indicates that extant shelter policies either enhance or further erode family integrity, that is, the ability of these challenged families to stay together and move forward as a cohesive unit. This study used qualitative and quantitative techniques to gather data and determine the standard shelter policies utilized in north central North Carolina. William N. Dunn's applied policy analysis model provided the conceptual framework to analyze the potential impact of shelter policies on homeless family structure and function. The model includes a thorough review of the background and significance of the policy problem, the collection and analysis of data, and the presentation of conclusions and policy recommendations for an improved shelter setting. Data analyzed included the responses of five managers of eight shelter facilities to a survey questionnaire, content from the resident's rule and regulation handbook for each site, resident lease agreements, archived information (including reports) about the facility; federal and state guidelines, and the mission statement of each facility. Policies at most facilities required that children be kept under constant supervision by their parents. Six facilities mandated random drug and alcohol tests. Curfews for all residents and set bedtimes for children were policies in most facilities, while two sites had bedtimes for adults as well. Daily or weekly cleanliness inspections of rooms/apartments were conducted at most facilities. Most managers gave lack of space as the primary reason for turning away families, but gave no indication whether family size or lack of available rooms/apartments was causative. Official identification such as social security cards for all family members was required before enrollment in all but the domestic violence shelters. None of the facilities allowed residents to participate in setting rules and regulations. In conclusion, shelter policies that impact homeless families were found to erode family integrity both before and during the sheltering experience. Preadmission requirements of fees and official documents that may have been unavailable for all or some members of the homeless family may have caused the family to seek other options for shelter. Rules and regulations at the shelters that deny resident input and require resident attendance at meetings and workshops unrelated to their particular growth needs may have undermined residents' self-esteem and sense of empowerment as competent adults and decision makers. Recommendations for policy change include: Entrance fees that may be paid over an extended time after entry; a shared governance approach to residential rule setting; a focus on family strengths and factors of resilience when setting learning goals; and more collaboration between homeless care providers. Ongoing research is suggested that would provide additional information on outcomes for families denied shelter due to large family size. The impact of some policies remains difficult to ascertain due to the lack of feedback from former residents; however, the Homeless Management Information System can potentially be used to assist with this task.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2013
Families, Homeless, Homelessness, Parenting role, Policy analysis, Shelter policies
Homeless families $x Services for $z North Carolina
Shelters for the homeless $z North Carolina
Homeless families $z North Carolina $x Social conditions

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