Probably the least researched type of adaptation to homelessness is that of living with another family, usually another poor family, on a very temporary basis. This is referred to as "doubling-up" and is often a precursor to life on the streets, or in encampments and shelters.
In Janet Fitchen's pioneering work on rural homelessness in New York state (Fitchen, 1991), she found that the most frequent form of lack of adequate shelter among the rural poor was to squeeze two families into a trailer or apartment that was already too small for one. These arrangements were often short-lived, as the strain of the situation made life unbearable. Fitchen found that doubling-up was associated not with mental illness or substance abuse, but a worsening economy in rural areas due in part to the great loss of manufacturing jobs. Another factor that led to doubling-up was the rise of single motherhood in which income (through work or welfare) was not adequate to pay rent.
If a realistic portrayal of homelessness is to be achieved, it is incumbent upon the researcher to capture the dynamic quality of life on the streets as people cycle through the various alternative places to sleep (the street, shelters, hotels, and rehabilitation programs). For example, interview someone after a long hotel stay and they may discuss the loneliness and danger of their life. Interview the same person after a stint in a rehabilitation program (e.g., detoxification, or alcohol, or drug treatment), and they may bitterly complain about the regimentation and lack of privacy. It is important to know where in the cycle we are meeting the person (Koegel, 1992). Cycles of living on the streets may be seasonal, as has been observed among some groups of aboriginal people in Canadian cities who spend several months living on the streets, interspersed with several months "up North" on a reserve.
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