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Re-Think Homelessness Now


New Report Quantifies Challenges Facing Homeless Moms: Give 'Em A Break...or Help a former shelter director, I confess that big and little infractions by families staying at our shelter sometimes annoyed the snot out of me. If I knew then what I know now….

Homelessness has gained more awareness, but unfortunately the stereotypical guy begging on the street corner image prevails despite the reality that families and youth without homes far exceed HUD’s “chronically” homeless individuals,last reported as 610,043 (Jan. 2013).  And despite documentation that homelessness among children/youth has increased more than 70% since 2006, homeless kids don’t seem to count. Schools have identified 1,168,354 students, a record number that doesn’t include babies, toddlers and youth outside school systems. Congress hasn't learned that helping kids and families is cost effective, not to mention the right thing to do.

The families in our shelters taught me their circumstances were never simple. Sadly, family-unfriendly policies and practices prevail. In my book, Crossing the Line: Taking Steps to End Homelessness, I share stories of families and offer a multi-choice menu of causes of homelessness. Even that doesn’t cover the gamut.

Unenlightened shelter staff and bureaucrats can be quick to condemn the parent, typically a single mom, pointing out flaws in her behavior, choices and lifestyle. Too many shelters turn away hard-to-serve families.

A new report, Service and Housing Interventions for Families (SHIFT), produced by theWilson Foundation in collaboration with the National Center on Family Homelessness, documents needs of women with children experiencing homeless and explores effective approaches. In the process, it points to the common shortcomings of our family shelter “system.”

The report focuses on women and their children in emergency, transitional shelters and permanent supportive housing in the Rochester and western New York region, not in metro areas. From what I’ve seen in my 9 years of HEAR US Inc. travels, the NY findings appear to reflect homelessness among families similarly sized communities.

The report’s key findings:

Other significant findings:

The report gets even more valuable, pointing out often-ignored realities:

We need a better way of helping vulnerable women with kids. Kicking out or denying service to hard-to-serve women (likely depressed or experiencing other mental health issues), penalizing and incarcerating, or berating doesn’t work. Worst case example, the death of a mother who had been locked up for failure to pay school fees.

But since our federal government has yet to prioritize, much less fund, efforts to end family homelessness, we’ll be hashing this issue around for years to come, wondering why kids fail to thrive, parents fail to parent, jails are filled, schools stumble, and poverty soars. That annoys the snot out of me the most.


"Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Matthew 25:34-40

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