The Facts about Homelessness
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 fastest growing segment of the homeless population is families with children. The recent Point in Time survey indicates that families with children accounted for 76% of the homeless population. The count also indicated that the number of homeless children in families increased 50% over the previous year. There is little question that homelessness among families is increasing.
Poverty and the unexpected crisis situation (unemployment, major illness) are the principal causes of family homelessness. Also, there is a shrinking supply of affordable housing. The gap between the number of affordable housing units and the number of people needing them is currently the largest on record. The affordable housing crisis has had a particularly severe impact on poor families with children.
Changes in Welfare
Welfare caseloads have dropped sharply since the passage and
implementation of welfare reform legislation. However, declining
welfare rolls simply mean that fewer people are receiving benefits
-- not that they are employed or doing better financially. Current
TANF benefits and Food Stamps combined are below the poverty level.
In fact, the median TANF benefit for a family of three is
approximately one-third of the poverty level. Thus, contrary to
popular opinion, welfare does not provide relief from poverty.
Although more families are moving from welfare to work, the wage
earners are faring poorly due to low wages and inadequate work
supports. Only a small fraction of welfare recipients' new jobs pay
above-poverty wages; most of the new jobs pay far below the poverty
line. Moreover, extreme poverty is growing more common for children,
especially those in female-headed and working families. This
increase can be traced directly to the declining number of children
lifted above one-half of the poverty line by government cash
assistance for the poor.
As a result of loss of benefits, low wages, and unstable employment, many families leaving welfare struggle to get medical care, food, and housing. 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 TANF families nationwide lives in public housing or receives a housing voucher to help them rent a private unit. For most families leaving the rolls, housing subsidies are not an option. In some communities, former welfare families appear to be experiencing homelessness in increasing numbers.
Domestic violence also contributes to homelessness among families. When a woman leaves an abusive relationship, she often has nowhere to go. This is particularly 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.
Policies to end homelessness must include:
- jobs that pay livable wages
- access to affordable, quality child care
- adequate transportation
- education and training - essential elements in preparing parents for better paying jobs.