Adverse childhood experiences: are they risk factors for adult homelessness?

Am J Public Health. 1997 Feb;87(2):249-55. doi: 10.2105/ajph.87.2.249.


Objectives: We tested the hypothesis that adverse childhood experiences are risk factors for adult homelessness.

Methods: We interviewed a nationally representative sample of 92 US household members who had previously been homeless and a comparison group of 395 individuals with no prior homelessness. We assessed childhood adversity with a structured protocol that included a previously validated scale indicating lack of care from parents and single-item measures of physical and sexual abuse.

Results: Lack of care from a parent during childhood sharply increased the likelihood of subsequent homelessness (odds ratio [OR] = 13), as did physical abuse (OR = 16). Sexual abuse during childhood was associated with a nonsignificant trend toward homelessness (OR = 1.7). The risk of subsequent homelessness among individuals who experienced both lack of care and either type of abuse was dramatically increased compared with subjects reporting neither of these adversities (OR = 26).

Conclusions: Adverse childhood experiences are powerful risk factors for adult homelessness. Effectively reducing child abuse and neglect may ultimately help prevent critical social problems including homelessness.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child Abuse*
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Female
  • Homeless Persons*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Prevalence
  • Probability
  • Risk Factors
  • United States