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|About 220,000 people in families are homeless. Rapid re-housing and prevention are two strategies to avert and end their homelessness.|
Families experiencing homelessness are similar to other, housed families living in poverty. In fact, many poor families – homeless or not – share similar characteristics: they are usually headed by a single woman with limited education, are usually young, and have high rates of domestic violence and mental illness.
Some families living in poverty, however, fall into homelessness, usually due to some unforeseen financial challenge, such as a death in the family, a lost job, or an unexpected bill, creating a situation where the family cannot maintain housing.
According to Part 1 of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, 222,197 people in families were homeless on a single night in 2013, making up 36 percent of all homeless people counted. That estimate represents a 7 percent decline compared to HUD's 2012 estimate and an 11 decline compared to its 2007 estimate.
Fortunately, homelessness among families is typically not a long-term experience. About 75 percent of families who enter shelter are able to quickly exit with little or no assistance and never return. Some families, however, require more intensive assistance.
One of the most important strategies for lifting families from homelessness is rapid re-housing. The more quickly families are connected with permanent housing, the more quickly their homelessness can be solved and their lives can return to relative stability. Similarly, prevention strategies – in the form of cash assistance, housing subsidies, and other services – can avert homelessness before it starts.
Many communities are taking steps to improve their response to family homelessness. The success of communities such as Alameda County, CA, which experienced a 37 percent decline in family homelessness, offers a glimpse of what can be accomplished nationally with the necessary commitment of political will and resources.