Want to understand the issue of family homelessness a little better? Here is some information about family homelessness and its contributing causes, drawn from statistical research by national, state, and local expert organizations. Most data is drawn from the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness (ICPH); the U.S. Census Bureau; the National Center on Family Homelessness (NCFH), and other sources as sited.
Nationwide, family homelessness has been increasing for the last three decades – from 2007 to 2010 alone there was a 20% jump in the number of homeless families in the U.S. By 2010, 37% of homeless people were in families with children, and they continue to be the fastest growing homeless population in the nation. Here's just a few quick facts:
- 1 in 45 children in the U.S. — 1.6 million children — were living on the street, in homeless shelters or motels, or doubled up with other families in 2010
- Child homelessness rose 33% in 3 years (2007 - 2010)
- 84% of families experiencing homelessness are female-headed
- More than half of all homeless mothers do not have a high school diploma
- 29% of adults in homeless families are working
Family Homelessness in the Pikes Peak Region
Locally, it is difficult to quantify the number of homeless families. Often called the “hidden homeless”, families do not often show up at the places where the homeless are counted, such as emergency shelters or tent camps. Instead they are often living out of their cars, preparing to flee an abusive situation, or “couch surfing” day to day with friends and relatives.
Despite the lack of reliable family homeless counts, there is evidence that family homelessness is as dire a problem locally as it is nationally. In the last two years, Pikes Peak United Way’s 211 hotline received 725 calls from homeless families with children seeking assistance. Last year PIH served 365 homeless people, the highest number in our 21-year history, including 216 children. We are now operating at unprecedented levels to meet local needs, serving 76% more families than we did five years ago!
The reasons for family homelessness are often different from the reasons behind single homelessness. The 2007 El Paso County Point In Time Survey report stated that “respondents in households with children were more than twice as likely as those in households without children to say that high housing costs, high utility costs, or eviction or foreclosure are reasons for their current spell of homelessness”.
Family Homelessness and Domestic Abuse
Family homelessness is closely tied to domestic violence. The 2007 El Paso County survey showed that households with children are more than twice as likely as singles to become homeless due to domestic abuse. The Network to End Domestic Violence reports that approximately 63% of homeless women have experienced domestic violence as an adult, and an NCFH study found that 92% of homeless mothers have experienced severe physical and/or sexual abuse during their lifetime. Unfortunately, domestic violence is on the rise locally. In 2011, the Colorado Springs Police Department reported 12,142 calls for service related to domestic violence or violation of court orders, the highest number in five years.
Family Homelessness and Affordable Housing
Of course, one of the primary root causes of family homelessness is a lack of housing affordable to low-income families. The gap between affordable housing need and availability is at an all-time high. 50.5% of poor renters are without affordable units nationally, and the U.S. will need an additional 5.5 million units of affordable housing to fill the gap. In 2009, 7.1 million households had worst-case housing needs, earning less than 50% of the local median income and paying half their income in rent, living in severely substandard housing, or both. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), these “severely cost-burdened” families are at great risk of homelessness.
The situation in Colorado is much the same. Our state has only 1 affordable home for every 2 households that need one. 24% of CO renters are severely cost burdened, and CO renter median income has declined 9% since 2007. The need is exacerbated by a decline in federal housing support over the last 15 years. Since 1995, the number of public-housing units declined by 700,000 and the proportion of federal dollars spent on housing programs for low-income households fell by 20%. (Data from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs).
Family Homelessness and Poverty
As of 2011, poverty levels in the U.S. stand at a 50-year high, with more than 46.6 million people in the U.S. – that’s 1 in 6 Americans! – living in poverty. The situation worsened in the last decade: from 2000 to 2009 the lowest-income earners in America saw a 9.4% decline in earnings (adjusted for inflation), much of it due to a reduction in hours worked. In 2012, a minimum wage worker could not afford fair-market rent for a 2-bedroom apartment anywhere in the U.S. These households are therefore paying unsustainably high proportions of their income for rent, and are often one paycheck away from homelessness.
Even middle class families are struggling more than they used to. Census figures released in September 2012 show that real median household income declined in 29 states last year, including Colorado. Not surprisingly, Americans' household incomes plummeted throughout the recession, with data indicating an 8.1 percent decline since 2007. The Census Bureau also shows a widening gap in income distribution for many states, reflecting a decades-long trend as more wealth shifts to the most affluent Americans. In 2011, income inequality climbed in 20 states, including Colorado.
Families working to overcome poverty and homelessness face additional fiancial challenges as they gain employment and work toward earning a self-sufficiency wage (i.e. an income level where they can pay for all basic needs without any subsidies). Parents with children face a particularly difficult time reaching an income that will support their families because of the Cliff Effect. The Cliff Effect is caused when small increases in income cause dramatic decreases in work-support subsidies like food stamps or child care, so that families cannot afford to earn more income because it will actually cause their overall household income to "drop off a cliff". The fact the most homeless families (84%) are headed by women makes earning a self-sufficiency wage even more difficult, as women still earn only 77 cents on the dollar compared to men in similar positions.
The Effect of Homelessness on Children
Homelessness has extremely negative effects on children’s physical and emotional health, family stability, and educational achievement. Recent studies show that children in homeless families suffer from three times the rate of depression, anxiety, withdrawal, and aggression as stably housed children, as well as increased incidents of ailments such as ear infections and asthma. They go hungry at twice the rate of other children. Forty-two percent of homeless children are age six or under, an age at which critical cognitive, emotional, and social skills are being developed. Chronic stresses like homelessness can affect these children’s chances for success for the rest of their lives.
Life is extremely unstable for homeless children, with 97% moving up to three times during a single year. Children in homeless families are additionally more likely to be separated from their parents and enter the foster-care system – 1/5 of homeless children are separated from their immediate family at some point. 30% of children in foster care could actually return to their parents if the family had stable housing.
School-age homeless children frequently attend two or three schools during a given year, and miss more school than stably-housed children. The stresses they endure often cause emotional trauma and developmental setbacks. Homeless children are four times more likely to have developmental delays and twice as likely to have learning disabilities. They are 16% less proficient at reading and math than their peers, and 1/3 of homeless children must repeat a grade.
PIH’s Approach to Addressing Family Homelessness
PIH's program model - which combines housing with supportive services - is a proven, successful model endorsed by national experts. The Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness, a national leader in the field of family homeless research, states that “Homelessness is not simply a housing issue” . . . to address the needs of homeless families, “participation in programs aimed at self-sufficiency must be the norm”. This is our philosophy at PIH as well. Although housing is a necessary pre-requisite to success, giving families the stability they need to pursue self-sufficiency, the heart of our program is the supportive services that build people’s capacity for self-reliance.
For more information on family homelessness, poverty, domestic violence, and other related issues, please visit links below:
Colorado Coalition for the Homeless
Half in Ten (a poverty fighting initiative)
Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness
National Center on Family Homelessness
National Coalition for the Homeless
Network to End Domestic Violence
U.S. Census Bureau