Who are the homeless? Not what you might expect!
If you ask most people to visualize and describe “the homeless” they will give you a pretty detailed word picture of a middle-age man, unkempt and with lots of “stuff” in a bag, or pack or shopping cart. (Try it – ask some folks to first close their eyes and “see” a “homeless person” and then have them describe that person to you.) But while that description fits a portion of the population who are homeless – it is not the majority!
The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that children under the age of 18 comprise 39% of the homeless population – that’s 1.6 million children who will experience homelessness over the course of a year. Families with children are among the fastest growing segment of homelessness. And the National Center on Family Homelessness reports that 1 in 45 children will experience homelessness each year! Among industrialized nations, the US has the largest number of homeless women and children and families.
So when you think of “the homeless” – add some new pictures in your mind… of women, families and children.
Causes of Family Homelessness
The causes of homelessness are remarkably similar regardless of age or gender – lack of affordable housing, broken social networks and support, lack of jobs with incomes that match the cost of living… But there are also some unique causes for family homelessness. More than 80 % of mothers with children have experienced domestic violence according to the U. S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. And 92% of mothers in homelessness have experienced severe physical and/or sexual abuse.
Impact of Homelessness on Children
Statistics show a bleak and challenging picture of children who experience homelessness. They have high rates of chronic and acute health problems – they are sick four times more than other children. And by age twelve, 83% of children in homelessness have witnessed at least one serious violent event. Developmental delays are four times more likely in children who are homeless, and they have three times the rate of emotional and behavioral problems. They are also more likely to suffer from hunger, poor physical health, and lack access to medical and dental care, and suffer from anxiety and depression.
With such negative effects, how can we remain blind to this large population of homeless? And what can we do?
Opportunities for Children Experiencing Homelessness
Colorado Springs is blessed with many organizations who work toward alleviating family homelessness and providing educational and enrichment opportunities to offset the negative impacting influences. Family Mentor Alliance is blessed to work with many of these partnering agencies as we help move families out of homelessness through the relationships and resources of mentor teams.
One of the greatest mitigations against negative educational impacts of homelessness is high quality early education in programs such as Head Start and preschool. These early experiences provide not only education and support but also stability and daily routines. Colorado Partnership for Child Development (CPCD) is a referring agency to FMA. They serve pregnant women and children up to age 5, providing servings that enhance the development of young children while promoting healthy family functioning and school readiness for the younger children and educational, physical and behavioral health, and nutritional services for children 3 – 5.
Another close partner agency is Family Promise/IHN which provides transitional short-term emergency housing for families in local congregational facilities while also providing a day center and case management services. Recently Family Promise and Catholic Charities of Central Colorado jointly opened a Family Day Center at the Hannifen Self-Sufficiency Center at 14 W. Bijou. The Center provides an indoor day space and educational and enrichment activities specifically for children, as well as case management and on-site service providers.
How You Can Help
Family Mentor Alliance trains mentor teams – ordinary folks from all walks of life – who walk alongside families facing homelessness, helping them move into housing. Mentor teams provide resources and assist with budgeting and life skills, but mostly they provide hope and empowerment to families who are discouraged and help with challenges that can seem overwhelming when faced alone. Mentors do not need to have special skills – they only need to have a caring heart and wiliness to give several hours a month to work with a family who needs a friend and advocate.
- To learn more about being a mentor, call Michelle at 884-2771.
- Advocate for affordable housing, violence prevention and health care for those in poverty and homeless.
- Many volunteer opportunities exist at the Day Center and with CPCD. Visit their websites, or call Michelle for contact information.