The Impact of Homeless Shelters on Food Access and Choice Among Homeless Families in Minnesota

Rickelle Richards, Chery Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Objective: To determine how and where homeless families access food, and to determine factors that influence food choice. Design: Seven focus groups (90 minutes each) were conducted by two moderators and audio-taped. Setting: Two homeless shelters serving families. Participants: Fifty-three parents or guardians (M = 11; F = 42) with children 3-12 years of age. Most participants had completed high school or higher education. Phenomenon of Interest: Food choice and food access among homeless families. Analysis: Transcripts evaluated for consistency, coded, and evaluated for dominant themes. Results: Limited cooking and storage space, and poor meal timing and food options at the shelters resulted in participants developing strategies to alleviate hunger. Strategies used to obtain food included using food stamps, stealing food, eating food in grocery stores, pawning personal items, using savvy shopping habits, scavenging in dumpsters (obtaining items such as food from dumpsters), and sacrificing food for children. Conclusions and Implications: Homeless families find strategies to prevent food insecurity. Food stamp usage is a common strategy, but it often is insufficient to meet monthly needs, indicating the need for reevaluation of program components. The shelter environment's impact on families' food choices suggests a role for nutritionists in ensuring availability of adequate, nutritious foods. Future research is needed to evaluate the impact of the shelter environment on homeless families' overall nutritional status.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)96-105
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Nutrition Education and Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The project was funded in part by the Agricultural Experiment Station of the University of Minnesota and the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program.


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