Essay on Mental Health and Homelessness in New York City

Published: 2021/11/16
Number of words: 1419

This research paper focuses on the link between mental health and homelessness. I chose this topic because I currently work with New York’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS), and I see how homelessness affects the mental health of individuals and families. This paper narrows down to how homelessness affects school children’s mental health and behavior from low-income backgrounds. Fundamentally, the discussion highlights the fact that a people’s way of living has a significant impact on how they handle different aspects of mental health such as anxiety and depression.

In the context of this paper, the discussion will analyze one scholarly work to assess how children from low-income families suffer from different mental health issues both at home and at school. The issue of homelessness implies that the children do not have a stable livelihood, thus the potential for deteriorating mental health.

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The issue of mental health and homelessness relates to social work practice on a mezzo level. In essence, the topic addresses the different ways in which social service initiatives can be developed and implemented at the local community level. In particular, mezzo social workers interact with the target population directly. In the context of this paper, the focus is on how social workers can help school-going children from homeless families deal with mental health issues. Furthermore, the discussion looks at the behavior of children from homeless families compared to their counterparts from housed families. The paper highlights the significant difference in the children’s behavior and mental status between the two family settings.

The article that has been used to complete this assignment attempts to support several hypotheses. The primary hypothesis is that children from homeless families would show a higher degree of behavior problems and mental health challenges than their counterparts who have never been homeless (Herbers et al., 2019, p. 1831). The other hypothesis is that children from poor backgrounds would record higher depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems compared to other children in society. Lastly, the scholars hypothesized that the length of homelessness could be related to behavior problems.

The article confirms the primary hypothesis that children from homeless

families would show a higher degree of behavior problems and mental health challenges than their counterparts who have never been homeless. According to scholars, homelessness impacts negatively on children’s general development, behavioral conduct, and mental wellness (Herbers et al., 2019, p. 1832). The scholars observed that homelessness is a significant factor in predicting internal problems among children even when the parents’ distress is constant. Worse yet, some of the school-age children living in shelters deal with the social stigma associated with homelessness. Their peers trigger the shame, thus affecting the children’s psychological well-being. The scholars have cited that the social stigma leads to depression and a critical re-evaluation of their self-worth.

The reviewed article also confirms the last hypothesis that the longer mothers were homeless, the longer they were distressed. Consequently, they would conclude that their children had relatively more behavior problems than children from the general population (Herbers et al., 2019, p. 1833). According to the article, women bear the heavyweight of bringing up children in homeless families in several parts of the United States. The scholars observed that most of the homeless families in the U.S are led by single mothers, thus creating a gender imbalance as far as parenting is concerned.

The article further adds that almost all homeless families in Worcester seek

refuge in emergency shelters as opposed to sleeping in places such as parks and cars. The research findings imply that the affected families considered the viable options available to them instead of surrendering to miserable living conditions. Furthermore, the families, primarily women, were concerned about the welfare of their underage children who could not fend for themselves. The lack of a permanent residence also impacted the family’s psychological well-being negatively. In the context of this study, homelessness is bound to trigger mental instability in the affected families and especially among the children. All in all, the children were still able to access learning institutions. From a broader perspective, the children from homeless families gained knowledge that would later help them pursue better living in the future.

Unfortunately, children who were homeless for a relatively long time had more significant behavior problems than their peers. Nevertheless, as time goes by, the children become accustomed to living in shelters, thus reporting an improvement in behavioral conduct. The scholars argue that, with time, the children adjust to their new settlement and learn new routines. In the long run, the mental health of the affected children improves. In some shelters, the children are lucky to have therapists who help them overcome the distress of moving from housed to homeless.

Further, the selected article confirms the second hypothesis that children from

poor backgrounds would record higher cases of depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems than other children in society. According to the article’s authors, children from homeless families acknowledged that they were predisposed to depression and anxiety compared to their peers who have a place to call home (Herbers et al., 2019, p. 1841). Similarly, mothers of children from homeless families reported more significant behavior problems among their kids than youth in the general population. However, an interesting observation is that children who had a place to call home had more behavior problems than their homeless counterparts. Also, children from low-income backgrounds displayed relatively low anxiety levels.

The conduct and mental health of homeless and housed children indicates the need for social workers to develop creative and preventive interventions such as programs geared towards emotional well-being. Further, children in both the homeless and poor housed families may have other underlying problems. For instance, the children could have experienced traumatic incidents in their lives before being homeless. Such incidents include family instability such as divorced parents, physical or sexual abuse, and loss of a parent, among others. Such traumatic events could lead to a significant impact on the children’s behavior.

Therapists’ interventions come in handy in handling cases of trauma among children. In this case, the children are not only dealing with past traumas but also homelessness. In the reviewed article, the authors note that children who have been exposed to long-term stressors need some form of therapy to restore their mental and emotional well-being (Herbers et al., 2019, p. 1842). The scholars argue that therapy sessions are essential for adults and children who have been through traumatic situations.

Independent Variable

The independent variable is the element that the experimenter can manipulate or change to carry out a study. A conceptual independent variable is defined as the element that a researcher wants to measure, and they may conceptualize to use it before conducting a study. On the other hand, an independent operational variable is the one that the researcher uses in their study. In this study, homelessness is the independent operational variable as the researcher can opt to use a comparison group that comprises housed families.

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Dependent variable

A dependent variable is an element being tested and measured in an experiment, and it is affected by the independent variable. The conceptual definition of the dependent variable is the one that the experimenter thinks of using alongside the independent variable. On the other hand, the operational definition of the dependent variable is the one that the experimenter uses in the actual study. In this case, mental health is the dependent variable. In essence, the target group’s mental health is dependent on their housing status.


Homelessness affects the mental health of individuals and families negatively. However, with the right interventions, social work practitioners can alleviate the suffering of the affected individuals. In this research paper, the focus has been on children from low-income homeless families compared to their housed counterparts. Therapy has been highlighted as one of the effective counter solutions to children who have been through traumatic life events before being homeless. The reviewed scholarly work also noted that, with time, the affected children report improvement in their behavior and mental health status. Depression and anxiety levels decrease significantly, thus leaving the children able to adapt to their new environment. Gradually, the children learn new routines and adapt to the change in lifestyle.


Herbers, J. E., Cutuli, J. J., Keane, J. N., & Leonard, J. A. (2019). Childhood homelessness, resilience, and adolescent mental health: A prospective, person‐centered approach. Psychology in the Schools57(12), 1830-1844.

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