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Friday News Roundup: Family Homelessness
December 4, 2009
So today, the Alliance had a Congressional Briefing on Family Homelessness.
I've never been to one of these myself (at least, not one hosted by the Alliance) so I wasn't sure what to expect - but things clarified about ten minutes into the briefing.
It was a reasonably packed room - no place to sit for the whole staff, and we invited speakers from all over the country to discuss state, community, and local solutions to end homelessness among families.
So here's where we start: family homelessness is a problem.
That's been clear for a while now. News reports have (as of late) fixated on student homelessness - and while youth homelessness is nothing less than a critical problem - there's usually an entire family there that deserves our attention. Authors of the latest Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR) from the Department of Housing and Urban Development will argue that family homelessness is up 4 percent from 2007 - 2008 (that's the latest data we have).
The numbers are fuzzy, but between unemployment and poverty rates, enrollment in social services, use of food stamps, and other indicators - it's pretty clear that need is up.
At our briefing, I had the privilege to listen to three representatives from three states:
- Bob Pulster, of the MA Department of Housing and Community Development;
- Kay Moshier McDivitt of the Lancaster County Coalition to End Homelessness in PA;
- Kathy Wahto, of the Serenity House of Clallam County in WA;
- and Leida Ortiz, a woman who had been homeless who was successfully re-housed with her family
The experience was tremendous. At the state (Bob), county (Kay) and community levels (Kathy), a housing-centric solutions is what made the difference for families. Stable, permanent housing is a critical component to overcoming other challenges that may be inhibiting families from getting back on their own feet - Leida noted that housing was important to provide a sense of home for her two young children. Not only that, but providing permanent housing freed up room in emergency shelters, decreased the length of stay in shelter, and - as Bob noted - was even cost-effective in the state of Massachusetts.
Which isn't to say that this seemed easy and dandy. All three community representatives touched upon the economic woes troubling us today, and how that has presented some challenges - especially in the way of increase demand - for housing providers. And while not everyone who needs housing is necessarily receiving it, the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program (HPRP) funds have provided some much-needed assistance in the financing area.
As someone who is (still) relatively new to the idea of homelessness and to the solutions to the problem, this briefing was incredibly beneficial. To learn first-hand from people in the trenches of a community how rapid re-housing really works was so enlightening - and to hear from a consumer herself was all the evidence that I'll really ever need.
Check out pictures from the briefing on our Facebook page, and let me know what you think. Is your community using HPRP funds? Have you noticed more homeless families where you are?