Social Network Decay as Potential Recovery from Homelessness: A Mixed Methods Study in Housing First Programming

Soc Sci (Basel). 2017 Sep;6(3):96. doi: 10.3390/socsci6030096. Epub 2017 Aug 23.


The positive relationship between social support and mental health has been well documented, but individuals experiencing chronic homelessness face serious disruptions to their social networks. Housing First (HF) programming has been shown to improve health and stability of formerly chronically homeless individuals. However, researchers are only just starting to understand the impact HF has on residents' individual social integration. The purpose of the current study was to describe and understand changes in social networks of residents living in a HF program. Researchers employed a longitudinal, convergent parallel mixed method design, collecting quantitative social network data through structured interviews (n = 13) and qualitative data through semi-structured interviews (n = 20). Quantitative results demonstrated a reduction in network size over the course of one year. However, increases in both network density and frequency of contact with network members increased. Qualitative interviews demonstrated a strengthening in the quality of relationships with family and housing providers and a shedding of burdensome and abusive relationships. These results suggest network decay is a possible indicator of participants' recovery process as they discontinued negative relationships and strengthened positive ones.

Keywords: Housing First; egocentric networks; homelessness; mixed methods; serious mental illness; social integration; social networks; substance use disorder.