S06: Understanding Resiliency for Families at Risk of Homelessness: Family strength, social networks and service responses.

Go back to Resource Library
By September 4, 2019 No Comments

Authors: Elizabeth Conroy, Julie Jasprizza-Laus

Year: 2019

Event: 2019 TheMHS Conference

Subject: Understanding Resiliency for Families at Risk of Homelessness: Family strength, social networks and service responses.

Type of resource: Conference Presentations and Papers



Dr Conroy is a Senior Research Fellow with expertise in cross-sectional and longitudinal survey methodology, mixed methods research, and program evaluation. Elizabeth's research addresses the health inequities experienced by marginalised populations (such as the homeless) with a particular interest in the comorbidity of substance use and other mental disorder, life-course approaches to understanding trauma and resilience, and service integration and accessibility for people with high and complex needs. Elizabeth is also a registered Psychologist.

Julz grew up in Western Sydney and has spent 25 years volunteering and working within local communities. Julz initial understanding was built on experience and a hands-on approach, but she also eventually completed her Diploma of Community Services, Diploma of Counselling and is currently completing her Bachelor Degree in Community Services. In 2006 Julz became the first Child Friendly Officer for Mission Australia’s Communities for Children Program in Mt Druitt. Julz career progressed from there and she is now Mission Australia’s Area Manager in Western Sydney, leading a vibrant team of 60 who each support families and communities across all of Western Sydney. Julz has a passion for supporting communities to thrive and believes that if a community is strong, supportive and provides opportunities, then families can focus on supporting their children to dream big and to foster the belief they can do anything they dream.

Families comprise a substantial proportion of the homeless population in Australia. While structural risk factors such as poverty are strongly associated with homelessness, not all families experiencing material hardship become homeless. The MAC-K Family Homelessness Project sought to understand how families were able to resist and/or recover from homelessness despite ongoing uncertainty with their economic and social circumstances.

A mixed methods approach was used to explore individual resiliency and family strength against a background of structural risk. The narrative interviews and cross-sectional survey found lifetime homelessness and housing instability, and family breakdown and trauma, were common, regardless of participant’s current housing status. The overarching theme identified in participants’ narratives was the experience of a difficult life and the aspiration of a good life. Several factors were found to be associated with resiliency including family strengths, social problem solving skills, and how participants negotiated support.

The findings were workshopped with staff from the different MAC-K services resulting in a tool to assist staff to move towards a practice framework that supported client resiliency. This collaborative process was critical to fully understanding the study findings and will be discussed along with the learnings of how resiliency can be understood in this setting.

Learning Objectives

Learning Objective 1: The audience will gain an understanding and appreciation of how people develop resiliency despite significant risk factors such as trauma, family breakdown and poverty and the role that services play in supporting this. They will also develop an understanding of how researchers and services can collaborate to ensure study findings are translated into practice.

Learning Objective 2: Psychological distress and mental disorder are highly prevalent among people with an experience of homelessness. While the homelessness service system plays an important role in reducing distress associated with homelessness (through the provision of supported housing and case management support), longstanding mental disorder and suicide risk (perhaps linked to early life adversity) requires input from mental health services if it is to be effectively addressed. Mental health services have a responsibility to work with homelessness services to support clients. Access issues continue to be a challenge for homelessness services partly due to criteria for entry into the mental health service system, and partly related to client fear and distrust of services as well as the stigma associated with mental illness.


Cattell V (2001). Poor people, poor places, and poor health: the mediating role of social networks and social capital. Social Science and Medicine, 52(10): 1501-1516.

Sharam A, Hulse K (2014). Understanding the nexus between poverty and homelessness: Relational poverty analysis of families experiencing homelessness in Australia. Housing, Theory and Society, 31: 294-309

This resource is only available for subscribers. If you have a subscription, please log in. Otherwise, click here to purchase a subscription.