Macquarie University
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Family homelessness in Australia: a quantitative critical realist study

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posted on 2022-03-28, 02:48 authored by Catherine Hastings
Homelessness is a potent example of extreme disadvantage and social exclusion, and for families it can be an experience of loss, fear and trauma. The effects of homelessness on children and their futures make the study of family homelessness particularly important. However, it is difficult to articulate a consistent and comprehensive account of the reasons for family homelessness and why some people become homeless and others do not. Attempts to describe the causes of homelessness rarely move beyond description to explanation and struggle to engage with the intersection of social structure and individual agency. This thesis asks: what are the causal mechanisms of contemporary 'cultural' homelessness for disadvantaged Australian families with children? The empirical analysis, using descriptive statistics, panel regression and qualitative comparative analysis (QCA), addresses three quantitative data sets: 1) Australian Bureau of Statistics Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness 2016; 2) Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2017-2018 administrative dataset; and 3) Melbourne Institute Journeys Home: A longitudinal study of factors affecting housing stability. The analysis approach is facilitated by a critical realist understanding of ontology as real, stratified and emergent, and an acknowledgement that our knowledge of reality is fallible, socially constructed, historically specific, changing, growing and theoretical. It is also informed by social theory conceiving homelessness as an extreme form of disadvantage, most importantly by Hobfoll's conservation of resources model which links stress and trauma to explanations of the mechanisms of material, social and cognitive resource loss (and gain) within particular socio-economic and cultural environments. Homelessness for families occurs when resources are depleted to such a degree that housing stability can no longer be protected. In the context of limited and shallow resource reservoirs across financial, housing, human capital, social capital and psychological caravans, families-when challenged by adverse events, a housing or financial crisis, or domestic and family violence-are unable to avoid resource loss spirals that bring about homelessness. The structures of disadvantage, welfare and housing are implicated both in how resources reservoirs are built by families over time, but also in the environmental conditions that they face in times of housing stress that result from these triggers and challenges. Changes to these three key social structures over the last 30-40 years, as a result of the influence of neoliberalism, have increased the vulnerability of families to homelessness. At the psychological level, the mechanisms of trauma, mental ill-health and psychological distress have emergent effects on the psychological resources of families, particularly on resilience. For Indigenous families, mechanisms related to historical and contemporary colonialism, dispossession and trauma increase both the disadvantage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their vulnerability for homelessness through resource losses. At the same time, Indigenous people may access a specific culture-based resilience to trauma and disadvantage through mechanisms of cultural strength, Indigenous pride and resistance to processes of colonisation -- abstract.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. The causes of homelessness -- 3. Using critical realism -- 4. Research design -- 5. Descriptive statistics -- 6. Regression analysis -- 7. Qualitative comparative analysis -- 8. Explaining family homelessness -- 9. Conclusion -- 10. References -- 11. Appendices.


Bibliography: pages 260-275 Theoretical thesis.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Sociology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Sociology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Shaun Wilson


Copyright Catherine Hastings 2020. Copyright disclaimer:




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