Social relationships of dually diagnosed homeless adults following enrollment in housing first or traditional treatment services

Benjamin F. Henwood, Ana Stefancic, Robin Petering, Sarah Schreiber, Courtney Abrams, Deborah K. Padgett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Strong and effective social support is a critical element of mental health recovery, yet social support is often lacking for adults experiencing homelessness. This study examines differences in the social networks of participants newly enrolled in programs that use either a Housing First (HF) approach (i.e., provides immediate access to permanent housing with ongoing consumer-driven support services) or a treatment first (TF) approach (i.e., traditional clinician-driven staircase model that requires temporary or transitional housing and treatment placements before accessing permanent housing). Method: We use a mixed-methods social network analysis approach to assess group differences of 75 individuals based on program type (HF or TF) and program retention. Results: Quantitative results show that compared with TF, HF participants have a greater proportion of staff members in their network. TF participants are more likely than HF participants to maintain mixed-quality relationships (i.e., relationships with elements of support and conflict). As compared with participants who remain in a program, those who disengage from programs have a greater proportion of mixed relationships and relationships that grow distant. Qualitative analyses suggest that HF participants regard housing as providing a stable foundation from which to reconnect or restore broken relationships. However, HF participants are guarded about close relationships for fear of being exploited due to their newly acquired apartments. TF participants report that they are less inclined to develop new relationships with peers or staff members due to the time-limited nature of the TF programs. Conclusions: These findings suggest that HF participants are not more socially isolated than those in traditional care. Implications for practice, policy and future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)385-406
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of the Society for Social Work and Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015


  • Homelessness
  • Mixed methods
  • Recovery
  • Supportive housing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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