Homeless Women and Children

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Homelessness is a devastating experience for families. It disrupts virtually every aspect of family life, damaging the physical and emotional health of family members, interfering with children’s education and development, and frequently resulting in the separation of family members. The dimensions, causes, and consequences of family homelessness are discussed below. Dimensions One of the fastest growing segments of the homeless population is families with children. A survey of 24 cities found that in 2005, families with children accounted for 33% of the homeless population. In 2006 that number jumped to 40%. This survey was done in cities with population exceeding 30,000 people. Recent evidence confirms that homelessness among families is increasing. In 63% of the 24 cities surveyed, request for emergency shelter by families with children increased. The same study found the request increased by an average of 5%. (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005). While the average number of emergency shelter beds for the homeless with families with children increased by 8% in 2005, an average of 32% of request for shelters by homeless families were denied in 2005 due to lack of resources. Causes Poverty and lack of affordable housing are the principle causes of family homelessness. There are a few other reasons which we will discuss later in the paper. Right now I will start with poverty and affordable housing since these I have discovered are the major reasons for homelessness. While the number of poor people decreased every year between 1993 and 2000, in recent years the number and percentage of poor people has increased. The percentage of poor people has risen from 11.3% of the population in 2000 to 12.1% in 2002 and by 2004 the number of poor people grew by 4.3 million from 2000, this statistic came from (Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, 2004). Today, 35.2% of persons living in poverty are children; in fact, the 2004 poverty rate of 17.8% for children under 18 years old is significantly higher than the poverty rate for any other age group. Declining wages and changes in the welfare programs account for increasing poverty among families. Declining wages have put housing out of reach for many families: in every state, metropolitan area, county, and town, more than the minimum wage is required to afford a one or two bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent. In fact the wages needed to afford a two bedroom apartment is more than twice the minimum wage. The largest program for the poor was the Aid to Families with dependant Children. Between 1970 and 1994, the typical state’s AFDC benefits for a family of three fell 47%, after adjusting for inflation. As a result the percentage and number of poor people has increased in recent years. Between 2000 and 2004 the number of poor children rose 11%. Welfare caseloads have dropped since the passage of the welfare to work program. However declining welfare rolls simply mean that fewer people are receiving benefits, not that they are employed or doing better financially. Although more families are from welfare to work, many of them are faring poorly due to low wages and inadequate work supports. Only a small fraction of welfare recipient’s new jobs pay above poverty wages, most jobs pay way below the poverty line. Extreme poverty is growing more common for children, especially those in female headed and working families. As a result of loss of benefits, low wages, and unstable employment, many families leaving welfare struggle to get medical care, food, and housing. Many lose health insurance, despite continued eligibility. A study found that 65,000 people lost health insurance as a result of the federal welfare reform, including 400,000 children (Families USA, 1999). Over 725,000 workers laid off from their jobs lost their health insurance. According to the Children’s Defense fund, over nine million children in America have no health insurance, and over 90 percent of them are in working families. In addition, housing is rarely affordable for families leaving welfare for low wages, yet subsidized housing is so limited that fewer than one in four families nationwide live in public housing or receive a housing voucher to help them to pay rent. The small supply of affordable housing is another factor underlying the growth in family homelessness. The gap between the number of affordable housing units and the number of people needing them is currently the largest on record, estimated at 4.4 million units. According to HUD, the shortage of affordable housing are most sever to renters with extremely low incomes. Federal support for low income housing has fallen 49% from 1980 to 2003 (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2005). The affordable housing crisis has had a particularly severe impact on poor families with children. Families with children represent 40% of households with worst case housing needs, those renters with incomes below 50% of the area income who are involuntarily displaced, pay more than half of their income for rent and utilities, or live in substandard housing. With less income available for food and other necessities, these families are only a stones throw from becoming homeless. Domestic violence also contributes to homelessness among families. When a woman leaves an abusive relationship, she often has nowhere to go. This is true of women with few resources. Lack of affordable housing and long waiting lists for assisted housing mean that many women are forced to choose between abuse and the streets. In a study of 700 homeless parents (women) in the Ten U.S. Cities, 22% said they had left their last place of residence because of domestic violence (Homes for the Homeless, 1998). 63% of women have been violently abused by an intimate partner. 43% of mothers and children were sexually molested. 27% have required medical attention because of violence by their partner. 25% have been physically or sexually assaulted by someone other than their partner. 24% of the children that took part in this study have witnessed acts of violence in the family. 15% have seen their father hit their mother. 8% of the children were abused themselves. These repeated acts of brutality result in unusually high rates of serious emotional problems among homeless mothers. Everyday homeless women and children are confronted with stressful and often traumatic events which has an adverse effect on our children. 74 % of homeless children worry that they will not have anywhere to sleep. 58% worry that they will not ever have a place to live. 87% worry that something bad will happen to their mother or caregiver. Stress such as this can lead to children having social and emotional problems; they seem to have a harder time in life. They struggle in school. Approximately 87% of school age homeless children and youth are enrolled in school, although only about 77% attend school regularly. Some schools don’t allow homeless children to register without school or medical records. Others will not enroll children without a home address and there is often no transportation available to get children from shelters to school. The vast majority of homeless children and youth live in shelters; double up with friends or relatives, or in situation such as motels and campgrounds. Homeless children who are able to attend school have more problems learning in school. Compared with other children, homeless children are: four times as likely to have developmental delays, they are twice as likely to have learning disabilities; they are also twice as likely to repeat a grade, most often due to frequent absences and moves to new schools (28% of homeless children go to three or more schools in a single year). Children under two experience cognitive and emotional delays. Babies show slower development than other children and one-fifth of homeless children between the ages three and six have emotional problems serious enough to require professional help, homeless children between the ages of six and seventeen years struggle with very high rates of mental health problems. Homeless children have many more mental health problems than other children. 47% of homeless school age children have problems such as anxiety, depression, or withdrawal, compared to 18% of other children but less than one-third of homeless children are receiving mental health treatment. Despite their multiple and complex needs, homeless children are not receiving the services they need. For example nearly 20% of homeless children lack a regular source of medical care and 15% rely solely hospital emergency rooms. Less than 1/3 of homeless children who need help for their emotional problems are receiving it. Only 50-60% of homeless families are enrolled in Medicaid, although most are eligible. Only 71% of homeless families receive food stamps or WIC. Only 37% of homeless children receive services that help them with enrollment, attendance, and success in school. Only 15% of homeless children are in preschool programs, less than half the rate of all the children nationally. The number of people without health care insurance rose by 1.4 million to 41.2 million, putting them at extreme risk of homelessness. An injury or serious illness can quickly wipe out a family’s income causing them to lose their housing and become homeless. Homeless children get sick twice as often as other children. They have twice as many ear infections, and four times as many asthma attacks, they have more stomach problems, because homeless children eat less often as other children (25% of homeless children report that they are eating less after becoming homeless). Homeless children also experience speech problems and are hospitalized more often than most children. Consequences Homelessness severely impacts the health and well being of all family members. Children without a home are in fair or poor health twice as often as other children, and have higher rates of asthma, ear infections, stomach problems, and speech problems (Better Homes Fund, 1999). Homeless children also experience more mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and withdrawal. They are twice as likely to experience hunger, and four times as likely to have delayed development. These illnesses have potentially devastating consequences if not treated early. Deep poverty and housing instability are especially harmful during the earliest years of childhood; alarmingly, it is estimated that almost half of children in shelters are under the age of five. School age homeless children face barriers to enrolling and attending school, including transportation problems, residency requirements, inability to obtain previous school records, and lack of clothing and school supplies. Parents also suffer the ill effects of homelessness and poverty. One study of homeless and low income housed families found that both groups experienced higher rates of depressive disorders than the overall female population, and that one-third of homeless mothers had made at least one suicide attempt. In both groups, over one-third of the women had a chronic health condition. Homelessness frequently breaks up families. Families may be separated as a result of shelter policies which deny access to older boys or fathers. Separations may also be caused by placement of children into foster care when their parents become homeless. In addition, parents may leave their children with relatives and friends in order to save them from the ordeal of homelessness or permit them to continue attending their regular school. The break up of families is well documented, 56% of the 27 cities surveyed in 2004, homeless families had to break up in order to enter emergency shelters. This devastates families and children Only the joint efforts of policy makers to meet these needs will end the tragedy of homelessness for America’s families and children. Policies to end homelessness must include jobs that pay livable wages. In order to work, families with children need access to quality childcare that they can afford. Education and training are also essential elements in preparing parents for better paying jobs to support there families. But jobs, childcare, and transportation are not enough. Without affordable, decent housing, people cannot keep their jobs and they cannot remain healthy. A recent study of poor and homeless families found that regardless of social disorders, 80% of formerly homeless families who received subsidized housing stayed stably housed. Affordable housing is a key component to resolving family homelessness. Preventing poverty and homelessness also requires access to affordable health care, so that illness and accidents no longer threaten to throw individuals and families into the streets. We all need to do our part in helping the homeless, support our shelters, go to your representatives and let your voice be heard. My source of information came from these references: 1. National Center on Family Homelessness. www.familyhomelessness.org 2. U.S. Conference of Mayors. www.usmayors.org 3. Children’s Defense Fund and National Coalition for the Homeless: www.homelessness.com 4. U.S. Bureau of the Census. Poverty in the United States: www.cencus.gov/hhes/www/poverty.html. 5. Families USA Losing Health Insurance: 1334 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 2005 6. National Low Income Housing Coalition 2005: Rental Housing at what cost. 7. Center of Budget and Policy Priorities 2004: www.familyhomlessness.org. 8. Homes for the homeless A guide to affordable housing: www.homelessness,com 9. Better Homes Fund, Help end homelessness 1999.

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