There are many challenges that confront families facing homelessness. Homeless families move frequently. Many are doubledup in overcrowded apartments with relatives or friends. Others sleep in cars and campgrounds or send their children to stay with relatives to avoid shelter life. Once in shelter, families must quickly adjust to overcrowded, difficult and uncomfortable circumstances. Despite the efforts of dedicated staff, many shelters are noisy, chaotic and lack privacy. Homelessness increases the likelihood that families will separate or dissolve, which only compounds the stress the family feels.
More and more of the participants who walk through the doors at StreetWise are not currently homeless; however, they are on the brink of homelessness (of those, 1/3 are currently raising their own children). They come to our agency to find assistance in stabilizing the crisis so that they can maintain their current housing and especially to keep their family together.
Families who have experienced homelessness have much higher rates of family separation than other families. The trauma caused by families being torn apart is significant. It often leaves long-term emotional scars on the adults as well as the children.
Parents have to confront the fear that they have failed their children. The children are left to wrestle with the thought that one or both parents may have abandoned them. Unfortunately, the very systems that are in place to help the homeless often contribute to family separation.1
• About 55% of the cities surveyed by the US Conference of Mayors report that families may have to break up in order to be sheltered.
• Families may send their children to stay with relatives to avoid shelter life.
• One-fifth of homeless children are separated from their immediate family at some point.
• Mothers with a childhood history of foster care placement are more likely to become homeless, and they tend to become homeless at an earlier age than those who do not have a foster care history.
• At least 30% of children in foster care could return home if their parents had access to housing.
The good news is that the StreetWise model (i.e., combining immediate access to earned income with an array of social service supports) is successful in stabilizing the housing crisis for those who face the possibility of losing their home. Agency data shows that 95% of StreetWise participants who are at risk of homelessness are able to maintain their current housing.
For participants with families, it means not going to a shelter, not doubling up in someone else’s home and – most importantly – not being separated from each other.
I would greatly appreciate your thoughts and suggestions. You are welcome to contact me at either email@example.com or (773) 334-6600 (ext. 22).
Jim LoBianco, StreetWise Executive Director