Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

15882 Refugee Homelessness and Housing Insecurity In Socio-Ecological Contexts of Migration and Resettlement: Community Based Participatory Research with a Sequential Mixed Methods Design

Thursday, January 12, 2012: 4:30 PM
Constitution E (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Hyojin Im, MA, PhD Student, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Paul, MN
C. David Hollister, PhD, Full Professor, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Paul, MN
Background: Housing is an immediate and primary need for refugee families, not only upon arrival but throughout the entire resettlement process. The current economic recession and the closure of the family reunification program, however, impose challenges on refugee communities as well as resettlement agencies (VolAgs). Recognizing this situation, we worked closely with VolAgs and a county homelessness program in the Minneapolis area to develop a series of studies to understand housing situations in refugee communities and to design a policy intervention and advocacy tool for families with housing issues. Using theoretical frameworks of social capital (Putnam, 1993) and a socio-ecological model (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Williams, 2009), we constructed research questions based on focus group discussions with refugee community leaders and service providers in VolAgs and community-based organizations (CBOs).

Methods: We used a sequential mixed methods design comprised of a semi-structured survey, individual in-depth interviews, and focus group interviews (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 2003). Given the knowledge gap about refugee housing issues, we first did a preliminary survey of 250 refugees from five refugee/immigrant communities in Minnesota: Hmong, Karen, Liberian, Oromo, and Somali, using quota sampling. With significant input from CBOs, we developed a semi-structured questionnaire to explore housing trajectories and instability during resettlement and to identify risk and preventive factors for housing crises. From these data we identified two target populations, Hmong and Somali, as well as salient risk and preventive factors, such as social capital, both bonding and bridging. Then, to better understand the experiences of refugee families who had had a housing crisis, we interviewed twenty-six refugee/immigrant families in a homeless shelter. To investigate the community level of distress and coping strategies, we also designed four focus group interviews with 24 families from the two target populations. We adopted a grounded theory approach and thematic content analysis, using NVivo software, to analyze individual and group interviews respectively (Straus & Corbin, 1997; Neuendorf, 2002).

Results: Uni- and bivariate analyses from the preliminary survey revealed several housing trajectories of refugee communities. We found the highest housing instability in the Somali community and the highest risk of mental health issues in the Hmong community. Both risk and preventive factors for successful resettlement and housing stability were found in pre- and post-migration experiences. Cultural barriers and the failure of timely service provision tended to shape certain patterns of social capital among newly resettled refugees (i.e. high bonding and low bridging social capital) and coping strategies (i.e. low help-seeking of formal services). These, in turn, contributed to adjustment stressors and psychological distress and eventually to housing crises, as issues accumulated. Secondary migration was strongly associated with low social capital and tended to lead families to aggravated housing insecurity.

Conclusion and Implications: Through the use of social capital and socio-ecological frameworks, this study provides a better understanding of refugee housing and mental health issues and potential intervention points. The CBPR process provides evidence-based policy implications for culturally-adequate service design for refugee communities, proactively addressing resettlement challenges.

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