ObjectiveThis study, using latent variable methodology, explores simultaneously the relative effects of childhood abuse and early parental substance abuse on later chronic homelessness, depression, and substance abuse problems in a sample of homeless women. We also examine whether self-esteem and recent violence can serve as mediators between the childhood predictors and the dysfunctional outcomes.
MethodThe sample consists of 581 homeless women residing in shelters or sober living centers in Los Angeles (54% African-American, 23% Latina, 22% White, mean age=33.5 years). Multiple-indicator latent variables served as predictors and outcomes in structural models. Childhood abuse was indicated by sexual, physical, and verbal abuse.
ResultsChildhood abuse directly predicted later physical abuse, chronic homelessness, depression, and less self-esteem. Parent substance use directly predicted later substance use problems among the women. Recent physical abuse predicted chronic homelessness, depression, and substance use problems. Greater self-esteem predicted less depression and fewer substance use problems. Childhood abuse also had significant indirect effects on depression, chronic homelessness, and drug and alcohol problems mediated through later physical abuse and self-esteem.
ConclusionsAlthough there was a strong relationship between childhood abuse and parent drug use, childhood abuse was the more pervasive and devastating predictor of dysfunctional outcomes. Childhood abuse predicted a wider range of problems including lower self-esteem, more victimization, more depression, and chronic homelessness, and indirectly predicted drug and alcohol problems. The mediating roles of recent physical abuse and self-esteem suggest salient leverage points for change through empowerment training and self-esteem enhancement in homeless women.