Service Providers See Family Homelessness Increasing
November, 2015: A new report on family homelessness in America, “Services Matter: How Housing and Services Can End Family Homelessness” asserts that current federal policy will fail to meet the government’s goal of ending family homelessness by 2020. In a national survey of service providers who work with homeless families conducted for the report, 85% of providers say that family homelessness has increased in their service area in the past two years.
According to the report, federal policy is failing because family homelessness is viewed solely as a housing problem rather than the result of complex interactions between economic and social factors, and family circumstances. The report offers a comprehensive solution to family homelessness that is based on three decades of research and on best practices implemented by local communities.
“Housing is essential to ending family homelessness, but it is not sufficient,” said Ellen L Bassuk, M.D. of The Bassuk Center which issued the report. “Along with affordable housing, families need basic services to live stable lives, including physical safety, child care, transportation, work and educational opportunities, help with parenting, and health and mental health care for parents and children.”
The typical American homeless family is comprised of a young woman alone with her two young children, many below the age of six. African Americans are disproportionately represented. More than 90% of mothers have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse as children and domestic violence as adults. Mothers have few job opportunities due to limited education and workplace experiences. Not surprisingly, many mothers suffer from clinical depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The children have high rates of health and mental health problems, and struggle in school.
The report presents results of a national survey of more than 900 service providers from all 50 states who work with homeless families in their local communities. Among the survey’s findings in the report:
• 93% of providers agree that most families need services and supports to remain stably housed.
• 88% agree that trauma experienced by mothers, such as domestic violence, is a common cause of family homelessness.
• 91% agree that mental health and substance use services must be part of the solution.
• Only 14% say that housing alone can end family homelessness.
“Service providers around the country are seeing more and more families becoming homeless,” said Carmela J. DeCandia, Psy. D. of The Bassuk Center. “There is striking consensus from local communities that these families need both housing and services to remain stably housed. This matches up strongly with decades of research about family homelessness.”
The report profiles five exemplary programs in local communities that illustrate the essential components of a solution to end family homelessness:
1. Permanent affordable housing
2. Education, job training, and income supports
3. Assessment of the needs of parents and children
4. Trauma-informed care
5. Recognition and treatment of depression in mothers
6. Family preservation
7. Parenting supports
8. Focus on children’s development and mental health needs
“The solution to family homelessness is at hand and is already being implemented in some communities,” Bassuk concluded. “But local communities cannot do this alone. We hope this report starts a grassroots effort that gives service providers a united voice to demand decisive federal action that will end this national tragedy.”
The Bassuk Center on Homeless and Vulnerable Children & Youth connects and supports communities across the nation that are responding to family homelessness. Using research-based knowledge, evidence-based solutions, and experiences from the field, we advance policies and practices that stabilize homeless and vulnerable children, youth, and families in the community, and promote their wellbeing.