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Homeless families face complex challenges when making the transition from welfare to the workforce. By focusing on the experiences of homeless families participating in a Boston-based welfare-to-work program, the multimethod, longitudinal study described in this article explored factors contributing to more successful transitions as well as barriers faced by families having a harder time making the transition.

Nearly 90 percent of the families that were studied left a shelter with a housing subsidy and retained it 6 to 12 months later. Successful employment outcomes after exiting a shelter were more evident for families whose head of household was older, two-parent households, families that had lived in their own residence before shelter entry, families that had lived in a shelter for shorter periods of time, and families that had employment income at shelter exit. Although income levels in Massachusetts were approximately twice as high for families in the workforce, income levels for most families did not meet their basic needs. Therefore, housing assistance was essential and allowed families to use their limited resources to pay for food and other basic necessities. The article describes the struggles of these families.

The article’s policy recommendations focus on the link between adequate household income and housing stability, the centrality of housing assistance, the need for additional low-cost housing options, the resolution of contradictory and counterproductive emergency assistance strategies, the link between educational and job-training services and employment opportunities, and the expansion of state and federal income-support policies.


Published in CityScape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research (Vol.6, No.3 2003), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research.



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