Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Urban Studies

First Advisor

Amanda Seligman

Second Advisor

Stacey Oliker

Committee Members

Ingrid Jordt, Chia Vang


Families, Homeless, Support, Trust


This research examines the dynamics of network exchange and trust experience in becoming homeless and the influence of these conditions on life in the shelter for women who are homeless with their children. The plight of homeless mothers in twenty-first century Chicago echo those of poor mothers in the eighteenth century, with families and singles alike enduring inadequate affordable housing, both in quantity and quality. So too did the provision of poor relief prove inadequate throughout the past two hundred years. I examined theories of trust and network and exchange theory, challenging the adequacy of their application to homeless families.

There were many things about the lives of my respondents that were consistent with previous research, including the same lack of resources and affordable housing and the limited size of support networks. The women I interviewed also illustrated similar exchange patterns within their small support networks to those previously studied by poverty research. However, my findings showed that for single mothers whose paths led to homelessness, the structure of their networks and the content of their ties to others were mutually influencing to a greater extent than previously noted. Most prominently, extremely small networks of close ties to others shaped the development of trust and distrust and how it affected the exchange of resources. My findings showed that homeless mothers were more likely than their housed counterparts to have particularly harrowing childhoods, burdensome relationships, and so little trust that the prospect of getting support for stable housing seemed remote. Further research needs to be done to understand the full impact of violence on trust development. The experiences of the women I interviewed reinforced the need for adequate, affordable housing and childcare and more specifically suggested that current rent-subsidy programs must expand. Possibly the finding with the greatest significance to families at risk for homelessness was extremely small network size. Services aimed at developing skills of building relationship and trust could result in access to new sources of support.

Included in

Sociology Commons