The Time’s Invisible Child Series: What Can YOU Do?

written by Sharon McDonald
December 9, 2013

Today, the New York Times posted a five-part series “Invisible Child” documenting one child and her family’s experience of homelessness in New York City. The story of the young girl, Dasani, is powerful and, unfortunately, representative of the experiences of thousands of other children who become homeless each year. I highly recommend that you read the story for yourself. Then I urge you to act.

For too long, our nation’s response to family homelessness has primarily been one of emergency shelters and temporary housing. In many ways, homeless service programs became waiting rooms. A place for families to stay while they worked to increase their income, save their money, and find housing on their own or a place to wait until a permanent housing unit became available in public housing or through a permanent housing subsidy.

But as the article makes very clear, shelters are not a good place for children and the pathway out of shelter and into housing of their own can be a daunting one – particularly when the wait for permanent rent subsidies can be counted in years.

Increasingly, communities are working to minimize time families spend in homeless shelter programs by investing more time and resources in helping families get back into housing of their own. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is encouraging this shift.

In the recent Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) HUD encourages communities to invest more of their federal and local resources in rapid re-housing. Rapid re-housing is an intervention that provides families help with housing search assistance, temporary rental assistance, and follow-up case management to ensure the family achieves stable housing.

Evidence from local communities that have implemented rapid re-housing shows that most families can quickly and successfully exit homelessness with temporary assistance from a rapid re-housing provider.

Of course, some families need more. Helping families who can exit homelessness with temporary rental assistance allows permanent housing options – such as permanent rent subsidies, and permanent supportive housing (which combines a permanent rent subsidy with ongoing supportive services) – to be targeted to families with the most intensive and complex needs.

Today, communities that are working to rapidly re-housing families with children like Dasani are planning on how they will get by in the upcoming year with less money than they had last year. This is a result of sequestration, which reduced spending across the board on social programs serving low-income families. Cuts to these critical programs cannot be allowed to happen again.

The Alliance and its partners will be working very hard over the next few weeks to urge Congress to provide homeless service providers the resources they need to help families like Dasani’s. Congressional leaders are in the process of finalizing how much money each federal program will receive for fiscal year (FY) 2014.

We need your Member of Congress to know that you support increases to the federal programs that can help Dasani, and thousands of children like her, to escape homelessness. Call your Members this week to encourage them to provide $2.26 billion for HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. You  can find more information about how to do that here