Causes of Family Homelessness
There are a number of factors that contribute to family homelessness, including the challenge of raising children alone, fractured social supports, and the changing demographics of the family. More significant to the dilemma of family homelessness are:
- Lack of affordable housing –According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the United States is facing increasing rents, stagnating wages, and an extreme shortage of affordable housing. For every 100 extremely low-income renters, there are just 31 affordable units.
- Extreme poverty – In 2009, 17% of all American families with two parents and 34% of all single-parent families lived below the poverty line. Many families do not earn adequate wages, with one-fifth of all US jobs not paying enough to keep a family of four out of poverty. Families need an income twice as high as the Federal Poverty Level, on average, to meet their most basic needs.
- Decreasing government supports – In 1996 the federal welfare reform law replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program with a block grant program called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). However, these grants, combined with the Food Supplement Program, formally known as Food Stamps, require applicants to earn below poverty level in almost every state and while the number of poor people has increased in recent years, the number of people receiving TANF has decreased.
- Domestic violence – Because of their unique and often urgent circumstances, those coming from domestic violence situations are more likely to become homeless or have a problem finding housing. Families escaping domestic violence may have poor credit, rental, and/or employment histories. Additionally, some are unable to collect and/or enforce child support and alimony payments, because they must avoid their abuser for safety.
As the problem of family homelessness accelerates, the services to accommodate the increasing numbers are lagging behind. Homelessness 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, with a much higher rate of separation for families that have experienced homelessness than others that have not.
You can advocate on behalf of families experiencing homelessness by pushing for:
- Affordable permanent housing - Safe and stable housing that is affordable and permanent is critical for families to raise their children and participate in the economic and social community according to a report released by the National Center on Family Homelessness.
- Jobs paying a livable minimum wage - Household wage earners must earn enough income to cover the basic expenses families face, such as housing, food, utilities, health care, and child care. The gap between the federal poverty level and what families need to survive is one of the main causes of family homelessness.
- Health care - Families experiencing homelessness often have significant health complications and more than one-in-three low-income parents without insurance spent more on health care than on food, heat, or other basic needs in 2005. Additionally, 7 out of 10 households experiencing foreclosure in a 2008 study reported that it was due to medical disruptions and expenses.
- Child care - Child care presents one of the main expenses for families and many mothers with young children are unable to work without access to it, adding additional financial stress on families.
Publications and Documents
- US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) - Point-in-Time Estimates of Homelessness
- National Center on Family Homelessness - The Characteristics and Needs of Families Experiencing Homelessness
- National Center on Family Homelessness - A Framework for Developing Supports and Services for Families Experiencing Homelessness