Methods: We conducted semi-structured interviews with 17 home visitors and 12 home visiting supervisors from 10 home visiting programs participating in the HVHF project. We also interviewed 14 parents experiencing homelessness—some staying in shelters and others living doubled up--who were receiving home visiting services from 7 of those programs. We audio-recorded and transcribed the interviews, coded the transcripts in altas.ti, and identified themes using respondent-by-code matrices.
Results: Home visitors found it challenging to meaningfully respond to the complex needs of families experiencing homelessness within the context of an under-resourced social safety net and in the absence of an adequate supply of safe and affordable housing. During home visits, managing crises often took priority over educating parents about caring for and supporting the development of their children. Home visitors expressed a desire for training on resources they can leverage to help families address their housing and other basic needs. Parents reported a deep sense of connection with their home visitors. They appreciated both the nonjudgmental emotional support that home visitors provide and their flexibility regarding the location and timing of visits. However, parents also acknowledged that their home visitors could not address many of their needs, particularly their need for a safe and affordable place to live.
Conclusions and Implications: Our evaluation indicates that home visiting services can be delivered to families experiencing homelessness and that home visitors can play a vital role by providing those families with parenting and child development education, baby supplies, referrals to other services, and emotional support. However, home visitors lack the training and resources to address the myriad needs of homeless families, especially their need for housing. These findings suggest that an adequate supply of safe and affordable housing is essential if families with young children are to fully benefit from home visiting and other early childhood supports. They also suggest that home visitors need both the training and flexibility to respond to the priority needs of families experiencing homelessness.