Have You Heard of "Doubled-Up"?

Lauren Baker, BSW


There are incidences where we have either stayed with family and friends or had family and friends stay with us during times of need. For families or individuals experiencing homelessness, staying with family and friends can be a means of staying out of shelter and trying to get back on their feet. Living arrangements of the homeless population are on a spectrum. To list a few situations: “doubled-up” (with family and friends), transitional housing, emergency shelter, or on the streets. The doubled-up living arrangement of the homeless population is maintained through informal social supports.

The Value of Informal and Formal Social Supports

Doubled-up living can be considered an informal social support and as informal housing assistance. Social supports impact the ability for a family or individual to attain stability. Informal social supports, also known as natural supports, can be identified as family, friends, kinship ties, church communities, and other community circles. On the other hand, formal social supports are characterized as social service agencies, government agencies, community resources, assistance programs, shelters, etc.

Informal and formal social supports have their own unique value: informal social supports as bonding ties and formal social supports as bridging ties. Studies identified informal social supports as enduring, long term, and providing “bonding” means of emotional support. In contrast, formal social supports are identified as short term but “bridge” individuals and families to resources that can maximize their economic and educational strengths (Cook-Craig & Koehly, 2011;Hawkins, 2010; Skobba, Bruin, & Yurst, 2013). Often, informal social support networks and doubled-up living situations can become strained, exhausted, and burnt out. As a result, individuals and families resort to tapping into formal social support systems and programs.

Housing Assistance

Housing Choice Vouchers and Rapid Re-housing are two forms of formal rental assistance programs where availability and funding can fluctuate.  At times, the need can exceed availability of resources.  Many government entities, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), use the United States Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) to identify whether an individual or family is homeless. The CFR used to identify eligibility of specific government programs, deems doubled-up living arrangements as “at risk of homelessness” (Emergency Solutions Grants Programs, 2012). Therefore, individuals and families in doubled-up situations would not meet eligibility requirements for specific government rental assistance programs.

Food for Thought

Individuals and families currently in doubled-up situations may feel trapped between the decision to ‘hit rock bottom’ and go into shelter to access formal assistance programs or to continue living in an uncertain and strained, doubled-up living arrangement without access to formal rental assistance. Often, this is when social service agencies receive the call for help. As a community, I pose these questions to you:

  • How can we assist and support neighbors in doubled-up situations?
  • How can we tap into and maximize informal social support networks as the strengths that they are?
  • What services or means of diversion can we provide to support individuals, families, and social support networks to become stable and out of the shelter system?
  • What resources can network together to provide a web of support to families unable to access formal rental assistance to attain financial and housing stability?


Cook-Craig, P., & Koehly, L. (2011). Stability in the social support networks of homeless families in shelter: Findings from a study of families in a faith-based shelter program. Journal Of Family Social Work, 14(3), 191-207.

Emergency Solutions Grants Program, 24 CFR §576.2 (2012).

Hawkins, R. (2010). Fickle families and the kindness of strangers: Social capital in the lives of low-income single mothers. Journal Of Human Behavior In The Social Environment, 20(1), 38-55.

Skobba, K., Bruin, M., & Yust, B. (2013). Beyond renting and owning: The housing accommodations of low-income families. Journal Of Poverty, 17(2), 234-252.