Homelessness among families is all too common in the United States. On any given night, 248,500 persons in families are homeless. Families who experience homelessness belie stereotypes that homeless people are somehow a population apart! The overriding characteristics of homeless families is their extreme poverty! Nationally, families who experience homlessness have incomes under 50% of the poverty level. Most are headed by a single woman who has limited education. Only half of parents in families that experience homelessness have a high school diploma or a GED. While about a third of parents are working, most rely on governement assistance to meet their basis needs!
Families that experience homelessness tend to be headed by young parents and have young chidlren. 42% of children in families experienceing homelessness are age five and under! Families experiencing homelessness are more likely than their low-income, housed counterparts to be African American. In most respects however, families experiencing homlessness are similiar to poor families! They have similiar rates of domestic violence and mental illness. Children who experience homelessness have similiar rates of anxiety,depression, behavioral problems, and below-average school performance as their poor, housed counterparts. Despite the seeming resilience if children and families, homelessness can be very traumatic!
Fortunately homlessness among families is typically not a long-term experience. The vast majority of families are in shelter a relatively brief period of time, and do not have a subsequemt homeless episode. Thre are, however, a small number of families who, despite receiving housing subsidy, will remain in shelter for an extended period of time or have multiple homeless episodes.
Many communities are taking steps to improve their response to family homelessness. They have adopted and refined strategirs to prevent homelessness, provided resources to help families pay for housing, over the short or long term, and developed Housing First interventions to help families find and stabalize in housing in the community. The success of communities such as Hennepin Conty, Minnesota which experienced a 43% decline in family homelessness, or Westchester County, New York, where family homelessness declined by 57%, offers a glimpse of what can be accomplished nationally with the necessary commitment of political will and resources!
Chronic homelessness is long-term or repeated homelessness of a person with a disbility. Many chronically homeless people have a serious mental illness like Schizophrenia and/or alcohol or drug addiction. Most people who experience chronic homelessness have been in treatment programs, sometimes on dozens of occasions. There were approximately 124,000 chronically homeless people in January 2007. Evidence from applications since 2007 indicates however that the number has declined, at least partly because of an incrase in the amount of permanent supportive housing.
Permanent supportive housing combined with policies to prevent people from becoming homeless represent the solution to chronic homelessness. The vast majority of people who experience chronic homelessness interact with multiple service systems, providing an opportunity to prevent their homelessness in the first place. Promising prevention strategies focus on people who are leaving hospitals, psychiatric facilities, substance abuse treatment programs, prisons, and jails.
Unaccompanied youth include young people who have run away from home, been thrown out of their homes, and/or been abandoned by their parents or guardians. These young people are seperated from their parents for a variety of reasons. Over half report being physically abused at home, and over one-third report sexual abuse. Over two-thirds report that at least one of their parents abuse drugs or alcohol. For many of these young people, leaving home is a survival issue. Other youth are thrown out of their homes because their parents because they are pregnant, gay or lesbian, or because their parents believe they are old enough to take care of themselves.
Over half of youth living in shelters report that their parents either told them to leave or knew they were leaving and did not care. Once out of home, unaccompanied youth are frequently victimized. As many as half have been assaulted of robbed; and one in ten runaways reports being raped.
School may be the only safe and stable envioronment available to unaccompanied youth. Yet unaccompanied youth often face unique barriers to enrolling and succeeding in school. Without a parent or guardian to advocate for them and exercise parental rights, they are sometimes denied enrollment and remain out of school for extended periods of time. Unaccompanied youth also may not understand their educational rights or know how to acquire this information.