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Reimagining homelessness assistance for children and families

Written by: Heather Lowe -

In a recent meeting of the local Family Homelessness Committee, we noted that for the first time in recent memory, fewer families experiencing homelessness are coming into the system than leaving. Why? The eviction moratoriums put in place are working – first during shelter in place, then more recently by the Centers for Disease Control. This emergency measures have temporarily blocked the tsunami of evictions housing advocates feared, but this measure is a stop-gap.

While the primary focus of the pandemic reporting has rightly been on the health impacts ravaging our country, the economic impact has hit families headed by single mothers hardest. With schools and day cares closed, even mothers with employment were cut off from their source of income. Unemployment benefits helped for a time, but until the combination of employment and in-person education environments return, the consequences for families are dire.

The attached article discusses ways government systems are failing to address homelessness for children and youth. The author, Barbara Duffield, notes that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development homeless services are only an “emergency response system.” In other words, HUD’s services are the ambulance – not the hospital.

Childhood homelessness exposes children to abuse, neglect, medical problems, education gaps and many kinds of adult dysfunction. Once children become homeless, they are 37% more likely to become homeless as adult. With the right intervention, the generational cycle childhood homelessness causes does not have to exist. Yet, childhood homelessness has a snow-ball effect – the more children homeless today, means higher the rate in the future.

We need solutions that integrate the different government programs in such a manner that benefit children first. These services include access to support and care, well before the family has to turn to the emergency system.

This is one reason why CTL expanded services to include Early head Start and Head Start – because we can help homeless children before they need the emergency response system. We can move families from motels to housing, and then access education, medical care, mental health and employment. CTL has also widened the conversation with other community providers that interact with homeless children (before they ever get to a homeless shelter) so that school districts, child care providers, health care providers and others can understand the systems and better help children.

Fixing the system for family homelessness isn’t really about the economics – it is about doing what’s right for kids.