Net Exchange Response

Title: Surveys and research on homelessness and mental health

Date Posted: 8/6/2004

Question: A colleague in a state department of education indicates the department is about to engage in a new study on homelessness, including a focus on mental health concerns. He asks for help in identifying updated survey strategies to get at mental health issues and relevant research literature.

Response: Clearly, the answers to questions about relevant surveys and research are complex and depend on what specifically folks are trying to do.

Here's a general response as to begin an interchange. Other listserv participants hopefully will weigh in with their information. And if more is needed, we can move on to the specifics.

(1) First, be aware that the Center has a "Quick Find" on Homeless Children and Youth (at There are links to a number of relevant online resources and centers specializing in this area.

Examples of documents with direct link listed on the Quick Find are:

  • A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America's Cities
  • Homelessness: State and local efforts to integrate and evaluate homeless assistance programs
  • Homelessness in Urban America
  • Meeting the Service Needs of Homeless People and Communities
  • New Strategies and Collaborations Target Homelessness
  • Educational rights and opportunities of children and youth who are homeless
  • "Guidance for Homeless Students Under No Child Left Behind Act" U.S. Dept. of Educ.
  • National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty: Fact Sheet on the Education of Homeless Children and Youth
  • National Coalition for the Homeless: Fact Sheet on the Education of Homeless Children and Youth
  • Developing Effective Programs for Special Education Students Who Are Homeless
  • Homeless Youth Fact Sheet and Resources
  • Homeless Children: Meeting the Educational Challenges
  • Homeless Children: Addressing the Challenge in Rural Schools
  • Schools Programs and Practices for Homeless Students
  • Career Counseling with Street Youth
  • Homelessness: Barriers to using mainstream programs

(2) Of course, some of the work related to homeless youngsters is found in other arenas such as Juvenile Justice. For example, see "Assessing the Mental Health Status of Youth in Juvenile Justice Settings" (NCJ 202713) -- available online at

(For full-text publications, information on OJJDP, JJC, and other juvenile justice matters, see the OJJDP Web site at

(3) Finally, a note about putting the matter in a broad context of mental health:

(a) Our approach to designated student populations with special needs always involves looking first at what are predictable, high frequency problems for students so the system can anticipate and plan in a proactive way to address them. From our perspective, for homeless students these would include two types of concerns:

(1) Safety and Welfare: Some students will be living with their families who are homeless and concerns about shelters, food, public assistance for the families, supportive and welcoming policies and practices for enrolling these students in school. Some students will be homeless and on their own. Here concerns about placing students in foster care may arise. Helping students become emancipated minors may be relevant. Basic shelter and food concerns need to be addressed. Often these students may find a focus on the family disruption that led them to leave home are of concern.

(2) Mental Health: A key question here is: What policies and practices would promote the mental health of these students? Here, we always stress not jumping too quickly to clinical services. A well-designed system of learning supports at a school can and should encompass these matters.

As to some general evidence for responding in this way, we refer you to the "Sampling of outcome findings from interventions relevant to addressing barriers to learning" which focuses on the broad range of effective interventions that a school/district might employ in providing support to these and other students. Online at --

(b) Finally, for those students for whom normative procedures are insufficient, the focus is on more one-to-one, personalized deep-end interventions.

Folks interested in this topic may want to read the online article: "The Characteristics and Mental Health of Homeless Adolescents: Age and Gender Differences" Ana Mari Cauce, Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, Winter, 2000 (


Here's a new article on the topic:

"Mental disorder and comorbidity among runaway and homeless adolescents" L. Whitbeck, et al. In the Journal of Adolescent Health, (August, 2004), 35(2) 132-140. "The study presents lifetime, 12-month prevalence, and comorbidity rates for five mental disorders (conduct disorder, major depressive episode, posttraumatic stress disorder, alcohol abuse, and drug abuse)...The data were collected by full-time street interviewers on the streets and in shelters in eight Midwestern cities of various populations...Homeless and runaway adolescents were six times more likely than same-aged National Comorbidity Survey respondents to meet criteria for two or more disorders..."

Submit a request or comment now.

UCLA Center for Mental Health in Schools
Dept. of Psychology, P.O.Box 951563, Los Angeles, CA 90095.
tel: (310)825-3634
email: Linda Taylor ~ web: