Maternal and Child Health Journal

, Volume 23, Issue 5, pp 572–577 | Cite as

Characteristics of Mothers and Infants Living in Homeless Shelters and Public Housing in New York City

  • Kathleen H. ReillyEmail author
  • Regina Zimmerman
  • Mary Huynh
  • Joseph Kennedy
  • Katharine H. McVeigh
Brief Report


Introduction Homelessness can result in poor health. The number of families with children living in NYC homeless shelters increased 55% from 2008 to 2014. Half of children living in shelter in 2014 were younger than 6 years old. We compared demographics and health outcomes of mothers and infants residing in NYC homeless shelters to those residing in public housing in this cross-sectional study. Methods Addresses of NYC Department of Homeless Services shelters and NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments were matched to NYC Department of Health birth certificate data for the years 2008–2013. Sociodemographic and health characteristics of newborns residing in shelters were compared to newborns in NYCHA housing using Chi square tests. Results Mothers residing in shelters were younger, more likely to be black and less likely to be Hispanic, more likely to have been born outside NYC and reside in the Bronx. Babies born to mothers living in shelter were more likely to have low birth weight (< 2500 g), be born preterm (< 37 gestational weeks), require assisted ventilation immediately following delivery, have a NICU admission, and use Medicaid. They were less likely to breastfeed within 5 days of delivery and be discharged to their residence. Discussion Homeless mothers and infants had poorer health outcomes compared with those living in public housing. Understanding the health disparities of homeless infants can provide guidance for developing future policies and research initiatives, which may be used to inform the development of new policies to improve health outcomes of homeless infants and their mothers.


Family homelessness Infants Poverty 



The authors acknowledge Hannah Gould, Gretchen Van Wye, Charon Gwynn, and James Hadler of the NYC DOHMH for reviewing previous drafts of this article.


  1. Akinbami, L. J., Moorman, J. E., Bailey, C., Zahran, H. S., King, M., Johnson, C. A., & Liu, X. (2012). Trends in asthma prevalence, health care use, and mortality in the United States, 2001–2010. NCHS Data Brief, 94(94), 1–8.Google Scholar
  2. Aved, B. M., Irwin, M. M., Cummings, L. S., & Findeisen, N. (1993). Barriers to prenatal care for low-income women. Western Journal of Medicine, 158(5), 493–498.Google Scholar
  3. Baggett, T. P., O’Connell, J. J., Singer, D. E., & Rigotti, N. A. (2010). The unmet health care needs of homeless adults: A national study. American Journal of Public Health, 100(7), 1326–1333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bainbridge, J., Bennani, Y., Marder, D., Forgione, L., & Faciano, A. (2011). A population-based assessment of the health of homeless families in New York City, 2001–2003. American Journal of Public Health, 101(3), 546–553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bassuk, E. L., & Rosenberg, L. (1988). Why does family homelessness occur? A case-control study. American Journal of Public Health, 78(7), 783–788.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cowal, K., Shinn, M., Weitzman, B. C., Stojanovic, D., & Labay, L. (2002). Mother–child separations among homeless and housed families receiving public assistance in New York City. American Journal of Community Psychology, 30(5), 711–730.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cutts, D. B., Coleman, S., Black, M. M., Chilton, M. M., Cook, J. T., de Cuba, S. E., Heeren, T. C., Meyers, A., Sandel, M., & Casey, P. H. (2014). Homelessness during pregnancy: A unique, time-dependent risk factor of birth outcomes. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 19(6), 1276–1283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cutts, D. B., Meyers, A. F., Black, M. M., Casey, P. H., Chilton, M., Cook, J. T., Geppert, J., Ettinger de Cuba, S., Heeren, T., & Coleman, S. (2011). US housing insecurity and the health of very young children. American Journal of Public Health, 101(8), 1508–1514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Davis, L. R., Holleman, W. L., Weller, N. F., & Jadhav, M. (2008). Dietary intake of homeless women residing at a transitional living center. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 19(3), 952–962.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gelberg, L., Browner, C., Lejano, E., & Arangua, L. (2004). Access to women’s health care: A qualitative study of barriers perceived by homeless women. Women and Health, 40(2), 87–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gitterman, B. A., Flanagan, P. J., Cotton, W. H., Dilley, K. J., Duffee, J. H., Green, A. E., Keane, V. A., Krugman, S. D., Linton, J. M., & McKelvey, C. D. (2016). Poverty and child health in the United States. Pediatrics, 137(4), e20160339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hwang, S. W. (2001). Homelessness and health. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 164(2), 229–233.Google Scholar
  13. King, H. (1998). Epidemiology of glucose intolerance and gestational diabetes in women of childbearing age. Diabetes Care, 21(Supp 2), B9–B13.Google Scholar
  14. Koegel, P., Burnam, M. A., & Morton, S. C. (1996). Enumerating homeless people alternative strategies and their consequences. Evaluation Review, 20(4), 378–403.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Little, M., Shah, R., Vermeulen, M. J., Gorman, A., Dzendoletas, D., & Ray, J. G. (2005). Adverse perinatal outcomes associated with homelessness and substance use in pregnancy. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 173(6), 615–618.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. National Health Care for the Homeless Council. (2011). Homelessness & health: What’s the connection?. Retrieved from Nashville, TN.Google Scholar
  17. New York City Department of Homeless Services. (2015a). Daily report—September 21, 2015. Retrieved September 22, 2015, from
  18. New York City Department of Homeless Services. (2015b). DHS data dashboard—fiscal Year 2015. Retrieved August 26, 2016, from
  19. New York City Department of Investigation. (2015). Probe of Department of Homeless Services’ Shelters for Families with Children Finds Serious Deficiencies. Retrieved July 8, 2016, from
  20. New York City Housing Authority. Facts about NYCHA. Retrieved July 8, 2016, from
  21. New York City Housing Authority. (2015). Special tabulation resident characteristics. Retrieved September 28, 2016, from
  22. New York State Department of Health Office of Health Insurance Programs. (2012). Policy and guidance to transition the homeless population into medicaid managed care. Retrieved October 17, 2016, from
  23. Reid, K. W., Vittinghoff, E., & Kushel, M. B. (2008). Association between the level of housing instability, economic standing and health care access: A meta-regression. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 19(4), 1212–1228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Richards, R., Merrill, R. M., & Baksh, L. (2011). Health behaviors and infant health outcomes in homeless pregnant women in the United States. Pediatrics, 128(3), 438–446.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bureau of Epidemiology ServicesNew York City Department of Health and Mental HygieneNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Bureau of Vital StatisticsNew York City Department of Health and Mental HygieneNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Division of Family and Child HealthNew York City Department of Health and Mental HygieneNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations