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Smolen, A.G. (2006). “Home is Where One Starts From”: An Analysis of a Homeless Child. Fort Da, 12(1):42-61.

(2006). Fort Da, 12(1):42-61

“Home is Where One Starts From”: An Analysis of a Homeless Child

Ann G. Smolen, MSS, LCSW

Single mothers with young children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. With the chronic stress that results from extreme poverty and racism, how do families stay functional and cope? And when they do not, what happens when the family structure breaks down, leaving young mothers alone — isolated from family and community support — to care for their children? Without a home, a mother's capacity for holding is under siege. And, without a safe physical environment, she and her children are homeless — within and without.

The Setting

Our agency is a transitional, residential facility for homeless women and their children, located on a quiet residential street in a Latino neighborhood in a neglected section of a major metropolitan city. Each family in the agency has its own living unit equipped with a partial kitchen, bathroom, and up to three bedrooms. Most of these families that come here never had a safe place of their own with a sense of privacy or protection.

Thirty families live at the agency. Most are African American; a few are Caucasian and Latino. Each mother must be at least sixteen years old, and her children must be under the age of twelve. Families are referred by either the Office of Emergency Shelter System (OESS) or Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The OESS families remain at the agency for one year; HUD families can remain for up to two. Our agency provides intensive case management, subsidized daycare and after-school care, parenting classes, life skills workshops, and psychodynamic psychotherapy for the women and their children.

The daycare facility also serves the general community when space is available.

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