Online Program

Assessing the importance of the social environment of shelters on residents' mental health

Monday, November 2, 2015

Nisha Beharie, DrPH, DPH Program, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, New York, NY
Mary Clare Lennon, PhD, DPH Program, CUNY Graduate Center, New York, NY
Mary Mckernan McKay, PhD, New York University Silver School of Social Work, McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research, New York, NY
Despite the current historic rates of families seeking housing in homeless shelters, little attention has been given to how the shelter environment may impact residents’ mental health. As such, this study aims to assess the relationship between the perceived social environment of the shelter and mental health of youth (n = 243) and their caregivers (n = 209). Data from the federally funded study, HOPE, served as the parent data for the analysis. The sample included 243 youth and 209 caregivers residing in 10 family shelters across a large urban northeastern city. Multivariate regression was employed to test the association between the perceived social environment of the shelter and the mental health of the caregiver and youth residents. In addition, hierarchical regressions were used to assess the effect of two other shelter related variables (i.e. difficulty following shelter rules and length of time in the shelter). Caregivers and youth who expressed less favorable perceptions of the social environment of the shelter reported poorer mental health (p = 0.015 and p <.0001 respectively). In addition, difficulty following shelter rules was associated with poorer mental health for both caregivers (p = 0.003) and youth (p = 0.002). These findings highlight the potential impact of the social environment of shelters on residents’ mental health and can inform current housing policy as well as rules implemented by shelter administrators.

Learning Areas:

Public health or related organizational policy, standards, or other guidelines
Public health or related public policy
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Explain the urgency and importance of working with homeless families given that homelessness is at a historic high. List demographic characteristics of the sample of the study and correlates of poor mental health. Explain the relationship between the shelter environment and mental health of residents. Name housing policies and programming that could be tested to enhance mental health among families residing in shelters.

Keyword(s): Mental Health, Homelessness

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have a masters degree in Public Health and am a doctoral candidate in the DPH program at the CUNY Graduate Center. In addition, I have a decade of research experience and was the lead coordinator for the federally funded study (HOPE) from which the data for these findings originated.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.