Over the past 20 years, homelessness research has focused increasingly on the temporal nature of shelter use by analysing large-scale and longitudinal sources of administrative data. Most notably, the seminal work of Dennis Culhane and colleagues demonstrated that a majority of individuals and families in the United States use homelessness services on a short-term (transitional) basis, with far smaller numbers going on to experience prolonged (chronic) or recurrent (episodic) shelter stays. This paper presents findings from the first study to integrate PASS data with the narrative accounts of parents to examine the dynamics of family homelessness in the Irish context. Drawing primarily on the study’s quantitative data, the results of a cluster analysis are presented to determine the extent to which patterns of short-term, long-term and recurrent shelter use exist in the Dublin region. The key characteristics of the three clusters are described followed by a comparative international analysis of the results. The narratives of participating parents are then used to further unravel the complexity of families’ shelter use patterns and their pathways through, out and back into homelessness service systems over time. Three distinct shelter system trajectories are revealed - linear, uninterrupted and circuitous - that broadly correspond to the dominant typology of transitional, chronic and episodic service use, respectively. The benefits of data triangulation and implications for policy are also discussed.
Dr Sarah Parker, Research Fellow, School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin.
Dr Sarah Parker is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Health Policy and Management, School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin. She is an alumna of Trinity’s School of Social Work and Social Policy.