Academic journal article Child Welfare

Housing Plus Services: Supporting Vulnerable Families in Permanent Housing

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Housing Plus Services: Supporting Vulnerable Families in Permanent Housing

Article excerpt

The importance of integrating services with housing to help low-income families achieve stability is gaining recognition. The variations in types of existing housing and service initiatives have produced a complex language with multiple meanings and overlapping definitions. The National Low Income Housing Coalition proposes the umbrella term housing plus services to refer to these programs. Following a review of the literature on the relationship of housing to child well-being, the article discusses and illustrates the National Low Income Housing Coalition's principles for and typology of housing plus services.

Housing is a basic need that plays an important role in family well-being, health, safety, and quality of life. Fragile families and vulnerable children have a critical need for stable housing and safe living environments. Yet, as a society, we have not committed the necessary resources to ensure we meet this basic need for all families or for all children, many of whom do not live with family members (Hewlett, 1991). The lack of adequate affordable housing to support family life is a key problem and a contributing factor to family involvement with the child welfare system. Indeed, housing is the bedrock on which families thrive, and some researchers see housing stability as essential to family stability (Crowley, 2002, 2003). Beyond bricks and mortar, adequate and stable housing for vulnerable families includes the integration of services that support residents and build a sense of community.

Agencies have developed a range of housing types and service initiatives to address this challenge. Although the diversity of approaches has been useful, each type of program or development strategy appears to generate its own jargon and understanding of housing and service delivery. When working together across type, both housing and social service providers are confronted with multiple meanings and overlapping definitions as they discuss their common interests. To maximize benefits to vulnerable families in housing settings, clarity is needed for a succinct, detailed analysis of housing and services initiatives.

As a place to begin this work, the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) proposed the umbrella term housing plus services to describe permanent housing that incorporates services into the operation of housing, with the services provided by people for whom service delivery, not property management, is their primary responsibility (Granruth & Smith, 2001) . Following a review of the literature to set a context for this work, this article includes a proposal of 11 core principles illuminated through a case study, and discussion of a common language to guide practice in housing plus services programs.

Intersection of Housing and Child Welfare: A Literature Review

With an increase in social problems, such as poverty; domestic violence; the loss of youthful parents through addiction, illness, abandonment, incarceration, or death (Simon & Burns, 1997); and an increase in homelessness, family child welfare workers are increasingly confronted with the growing inability of families to acquire and maintain safe, permanent housing. This calls for new understandings and new solutions.

Throughout history, America has seen epidemics and rising orphan populations, private troubles, and public responses. Social reformers in such times have urged that social problems be resolved with compassion and care. The social dilemma, then and now, is for policymakers to understand that it matters how, where, and under what conditions the poor are housed, and to care enough to do something about it. Gephart (1997) warned that "the interaction of several forces in America's cities over the past fifty years has lead to the increased spatial concentration of poverty, and the increasing clustering of poverty with other forms of social and economic disadvantage" (p. 3). Social research has played a role over time in helping illuminate such conditions and give direction to social policy through a social justice lens. …

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