More than just me :supporting fathers who are homeless

Justin Barker
Violet Kolar
Shelley Mallett
Morag McArthur

Abstract

Currently little is known about the experience of single fathers who are homeless and their families. Even less is known about their experience of homelessness services and how these services respond to their needs, particularly their needs in relation to their parenting role. This mixed method study begins to address this research and knowledge gap by exploring the experiences of homeless fathers, with or without an active parenting role. It identifies the social, emotional and material consequences of their homeless experience for them and their relationship with their children. The study also examines how their identity and role as fathers impacts on their lives in general and their experience of homelessness. Finally it examines how homelessness services currently support single fathers and identifies policy and service delivery changes that could result in improved outcomes for this largely invisible population. Findings from the study demonstrate the urgent need to better support fathers who are homeless or at risk of homelessness with their role as a father. Children are really important in the lives of these fathers: when a lack of contact with their children is combined with a lack of recognition of their role or identity as fathers these men experience adverse effects on their health and wellbeing. The meaning that fathers make from their relationship with their children can be a motivating factor to improve the conditions of their lives, especially when provided with support. However, structural barriers, a lack of acknowledgement of their father role and identity and the absence of support, add to a sense of futility for these fathers. Denying them an important aspect of their identity leads to further despair and anguish, creating a feedback loop that diminishes their capacity to parent and prolongs their period of homelessness.