Objectives: This effort used data from the Course of Homelessness study and comparative secondary data on the general population to identify negative childhood and family background experiences that may increase risk for adult homelessness.
Methods: Frequencies of negative childhood experiences were examined among a probability sample of 1563 homeless adults. Differences in risk for such experiences were calculated by sex, age cohort, and racial/ethnicity status. Where possible, rates of negative childhood experiences among the homeless were compared with the general population.
Results: Substantial numbers of this sample experienced multiple problems as children across several domains: poverty, residential instability, and family problems. Women and Whites disproportionately reported experiences suggestive of personal or family problems; non-Whites disproportionately reported experiences suggestive of personal or family problems; non-Whites disproportionately reported experiences suggestive of poverty. Homeless adults were at increased risk of childhood out-of-home placement, tenure in public housing, and homelessness, but not at greater risk for physical abuse. Women appeared to be at greater risk for sexual abuse.
Conclusions: The problems that homeless individuals experience as adults have very clear analogs in their childhoods. Vulnerability to homelessness stems from factors unevenly distributed across age, sex, and race/ethnicity groups.