Because of mental disorders, homeless mothers are at increased disadvantage as they are less likely to utilize public support resources, are estranged from family and other support networks, have increased rates of imprisonment, and experience disproportionate health problems. Simultaneously, mental disorders among homeless mothers in conjunction with history of childhood sexual abuse, the experience of adult partner violence, and a PTSD diagnosis make this population group being extremely vulnerable to substance abuse. With the identification of two health related problems of homeless mothers, this paper analyses these problems from the public health perspective and from the perspective of national Healthy People 2010 program. Paper also indicates various intervention programs as well as national supporting strategies aiming to assist homeless mothers and increase their quality of life and health.
Today, homelessness is everywhere and has many different faces. Social efforts addressing homelessness range from relief to rehabilitation with organizations aiming to provide support services to enhance the quality of life of homeless persons, provide services that alter the course of homelessness resulting in self-sufficiency and long-term independent living, or are intent on ending homelessness altogether (US Interagency Council on Homelessness, 2008). From the practical perspective, it is very difficult to develop generalizable statistical information regarding the prevalence and demographic characteristics of homelessness. Essentially, the only way to estimate the number of homeless individuals is to make a cross-sectional assessment in a specific location during a specific period of time. Thus information about who is homeless varies depending on the month of assessment, the geographic location assessed, and participant recruitment and data collection methodologies (Burt, 2001). Still, it is known that families constitute a dominant social group found among the temporarily homeless. Close to half a million families are estimated to be homeless each year making up approximately one-third of the homeless population (HUD, 2007). The vast majority of these families are African American or other minority group (Whaley, 2002).
The vast majority of homeless families include a 20+ years old single mother with children typically younger than six years of age (HUD, 2007; Weinreb et al, 2006). Barrow & Zimmer (1999) refer to this as the "feminization of poverty" (p. 51) which is reflective of gendered disparities in employment, education, and family responsibilities. The women who find themselves homeless often have depleted their last lifeline, be it a family member, a friend, or a financial resource (Rog & Buckner, 2007). Focusing on homeless mothers is not a dismissal of the plight of homeless single fathers; however, the percentage of fathers raising children in shelters, transitional facilities, on the street, or other nonconventional housing situation is strikingly lower than that of homeless mothers (16% father-headed homeless families vs. 84% mother-headed (HUD, 2007; Schindler & Coley, 2007)). Therefore, while the experiences and needs of homeless fathers are important, the vast majority of families experiencing homelessness are headed by single mothers, thus homeless mothers' health issues, challenges and educational strategies