The final catalyst of family homelessness is lack of social support. In this paper, social support entails the help and assistance individuals receive from family, friends, and others in their community network that help them cope effectively in times of crisis (Hertz 2006).
There are three generally recognized types of social support: emotional, the feeling of being loved, accepted, and well-esteemed by family other members within a community; cognitive, access to the sharing of information, knowledge, and advice about resources and services, and aterial (or instrumental), the exchange of goods or services, usually in the form of money, food, or child care (Hertz 2006).
When faced with setbacks or unexpected crisis, such as loss of employment, domestic violence, sudden health issues, or other trauma, most people turn to family for assistance with paying rent to avoid eviction, temporary shelter, and/or emotional encouragement (Hertz 2006). However, for many homeless families, these supportive relationships do not exist.
In a study of homeless single women headed households in Detroit, MI, everal women reported being unable to turn to family for financial assistance during their struggles, and many others spoke of violence within their families that initiated their housing instability, leaving them feeling isolated and “all alone” (Gultekin, 2014). This leads to a pattern that begins early in life, and is repeated throughout often in the form of recurring homelessness.
Ultimately, the loss of housing due to lack of affordability, combined with poor health, no income, and limited personal support leads to homelessness. Lack of social support is especially important for understanding amily homelessness because it poses a double jeopardy. Not only are adults traumatically affected, but it also has a long-term impact on the lives of children in the form of emotional, behavioral, and educational problems (Gultekin, 2014).
Communities and government respond to homelessness with a variety of housing and service programs, most traditionally through the provision of emergency shelters, re-housing, permanent supportive and transitional housing, emergency food assistance, etc. Yet despite this apparent assortment of social support services, family homelessness continues to grow ue to the resource gap faced by many community and government servicers.
A reported 41 percent of surveyed cities in the US reported an increase in the number of requests for emergency food assistance from 2015 to 2016 (Lowe et al. 2016). Among those requesting emergency food assistance, 60 percent were in families (Lowe et al. 2016). Furthermore, shelter space in DC often runs out as more than 1,000 families seek care every night, leading them to go to Plan-B of second rate motel rooms within and in the outlying areas of the city (Lowe et al. 2016).
Nevertheless, DC does better than most cities, as one of six states with less than five percent of all people experiencing homelessness unsheltered, as in primarily residing in a public or private place not designated for a regular sleeping accommodation for people (e. g. the streets, vehicles, or parks (Henry et al. 2016). If most families are sheltered in a given night, what else can be done to curb family homelessness in the city? One way to address family homelessness on the micro-level is through a more effective crisis response system within smaller communities in the city.
The DC Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) proposed a three-part strategic plan to do just that named “Homeward DC”. First, they suggest improving client engagement and eligibility services through central assessment of crises, a clearer standard of eligibility for services, and the creation of “interim eligibly” placements to increase access to quality emergency shelters (IHC 2015). This would require an amendment of the Homeless Services Reform Act of 2005, but could go a long way to address the cognitive downfall of social support that homeless families face.
The second part is o provide year-long access to shelters, and improve their overall conditions by transitioning to smaller, community-based shelters with more resources for families, such as computer labs, outdoor recreational spaces, and laundry facilities (ICH 2015). This would require the demolition of DC General, the mega-shelter in Southeast, and the construction of tens of other smaller shelters around the city. This type of support is emotional, in that living in good quality spaces can raise the esteem of occupants and encourage them to use their resources to seek employment, while providing a more child ccommodating environment.
The third part is to increase permanent housing resources and exits from shelters through investment in affordable housing and programs like rapid re- housing and permanent supportive housing (ICH 2015). Rapid- rehousing, an intervention that helps homeless families exit shelters and get back into permanent housing quickly through provision of short-term help with housing expenses (e. g. , rent arrears, ongoing rent assistance, moving costs) and case management focused on housing stability, is increasingly becoming the preferred method of providing mobility out of omelessness (ICH 2015).
However, there are several shortcomings of this plan than fail to account for the full scope of homelessness in DC. For one, this plan does not address the root cause of homelessness: poverty. Providing emergency assistance and transitional housing are vital components, but they do not do much to aide the persistent problem of housing instability when one lacks employment, child care, or a survivable income in general. This plan should emphasize employment services more, such as job coaches or even training workshops for basic skills like typing nd using computers.
Additionally, this plan does not account for the health issues many homeless face, especially related to access and insurance. Providing services so that people are educated about their health care options, such as Medicaid, could go a long way in addressing the mental and physical health problems people face. Lastly, whether implementation of these plans is possible comes down to funding. It would take a concerted, community based advocacy effort to ensure the adequate funds were allocated to this plan, which is expected to cost $660 million over 30 years (IHC 2015).
Ultimately, not every family requires the same response when they experience homelessness, so any crisis response system should incorporate interventions tailored to each family. Stable and secure temporary housing may be enough for some families to get back on their feet and find independence again, but others may require more long-term assistance to stop the cycle of homelessness. A macro policy solution to the issue of family homelessness would be the expansion of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, the nation’s largest and most successful tool in the production nd preservation of affordable rental housing.
Through engaging developers and encouraging private developers to create affordable housing, this Credit has financed nearly three million affordable apartments for roughly 6. 5 million low- income households since its establishment (Jakabovics et al. 2015). Family homelessness in DC is largely an issue of affordable housing, and considering the Credit provided 32,464 affordable homes in DC alone from 1986-2014, expanding it could go a long way at addressing inequality in DC housing (Jakabovics et al. 2015).
It could also be a powerful force for ombatting the negative aspects of urban renewal and gentrification, such as the displacement of low-income, largely African American residents of DC to the outskirts, as evidenced in the discussion of poverty and residential segregation earlier in this paper. A major weakness of this policy solution is that it does not aid much in helping families directly with the individual issues they face with homelessness. Affordable housing is only one component in an array of factors that contribute to the problem.
In conclusion, homelessness is not an individual issue or even a amily issue, it is a societal one. When members of a community experience homelessness, everyone suffers. In order to solve the issue of homelessness, it is vital to address both the root cause of the problem, poverty, and the causes that stem from the root. In DC, the main causes were lack of affordable housing, health, and lack of social support. As the rest of the country progresses, and family homelessness continues to decrease as the post-recessionary recovery proceeds, it is important that the most marginalized groups of people in our nation’s capital are not forgotten.