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Fathers in need

Wed, Jun 15, 2011

Jim LoBianco

A recent survey of StreetWise clients revealed that over 60 of the approximate 200 clients have dependent children. In over half of those cases, the household is headed by a man and in approximately 30% of those cases the StreetWise client is functioning as a single father. Unfortunately, social service systems are not structured to provide single fathers with the same level of support that they provide single mothers.

A recent study entitled, Housing Insecurity among Urban Fathers s pecifically explores this problem. Housing security is important for all at-risk populations; disadvantaged urban fathers, however, many of whom also face unemployment as well as ongoing supervision by a child welfare agency and/or the criminal justice system, depend on housing as the single greatest stabilizing factor. The study found that, a year after the birth of a new child, a quarter of fathers reported housing insecurities with 3% experiencing homelessness; 9 – 12% of fathers are doubling up in unstable living arrangements, relying on others for living expenses, and moving more than once every year.

There is no question that homeless single mothers are in great need, but, a lot of money and attention is directed at serving this population. In contrast, the needs of homeless single fathers are often invisible. A review of 40 cities that sought to identify available resources for single men with small children found only five cities that could be described as having one or more shelters to accommodate homeless fathers with children. Similarly, an internet search for keywords related to “homeless fathers” returns only a handful of results that are directly related to available services. In contrast, an internet search for keywords related to “homeless mothers” returns hundreds of results that direct a person to an array of available resources and services.

In Chicago, and across the country, social service systems often force fathers to separate from their children. There are few shelters in Chicago that can accommodate a homeless father and child. It is an injustice that during a time of crisis, when a child most needs his or her father, the existing system actually forces fathers to separate from their children.

At StreetWise we treat each client as an individual and work to address the needs they identify. Because of this we can give personalized service to single fathers. Nonetheless, beyond our walls there is a shocking lack of resources for men struggling to keep their children with them. StreetWise works with other advocacy agencies like the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, to bring much needed attention to this critical issue. If you are interested in getting involved, please email me for ways you can help.

I would greatly appreciate your thoguhts and suggestions on the work StreetWise does and on how to improve our services. You are welcome to contact me at either tipline@streetwise.org or 773-334-6600 (ext. 18).

Jim LoBianco
StreetWise Executive Director

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