Friday, May 29, 2009

A HEARTH For the Homeless

On May 19, both houses of Congress passed S. 896, the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, which included the HEARTH Act as an amendment. President Obama signed the legislation into law on May 20. The Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act (or HEARTH Act) reauthorized HUD's McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance programs. The importance to the families we serve is that the act:

  • "Increases priority on homeless families with children, by providing new resources for rapid re-housing programs, designating funding to permanently house families, and ensuring that families are included in the chronic homelessness initiative.
  • Significantly increases resources to prevent homelessness for people who are at risk of homelessness, doubled up, living in hotels, or in other precarious housing situations through the Emergency Solutions Grant program.
  • Continues to provide incentives for developing permanent supportive housing and provides dedicated funding for permanent housing renewals.
  • Modestly expands the definition of homelessness to include people who are losing their housing in the next 14 days and who lack resources or support networks to obtain housing, as well as families and youth who are persistently unstable and lack independent housing and will continue to do so."

from the National Alliance to End Homelessness Summary.

-Laura Gray

Friday, May 22, 2009

Gertting Past Their Breaking Point

Jeannine Short, our Director of Programs, shared a story of promise for a new family making a home at Community LINC:

The Holman family came to Community LINC in April 2009. Originally from Indiana, the family moved to Kansas City after losing their jobs and eventually their home. Like so many others in their situation, the Holman’s doubled-up with relatives and began the daunting task of finding employment and regaining stability.

Discouraged by repeated rejection from potential employers and disheartened by growing tensions within the crowded household, Mr. Holman made the decision to move to Arizona in pursuit of an employment opportunity. Leaving his family behind in hopes of creating a better future for them, he was once again met with disappointment. At their breaking point, the family heard about Community LINC. When informed that they had been accepted into the program, Mr. Holman broke into tears exclaiming how happy he was to be given the opportunity to provide stability for his family.

Today, the Holmans are gainfully employed and working hard to address and remove their barriers to housing. Not only are they actively engaged in the Tuesday and Thursday night programming, but they also offer their time to help around the community on their days off. In addition, they are very positive role models and take advantage of every opportunity to perpetuate a sense of community.

It’s been tough along the way, but the Holmans are well on their way to a very bright and stable future!

-Laura Gray

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Point in Time

Each year Community LINC takes part in a “point in time survey” of the homeless in Kansas City. It’s a count of homeless individuals and families both in shelters and on the streets.

The preliminary estimate was that on one day (January 27 this year) there were at least 2,655 people, including 715 children, homeless in Kansas City. In past years, before the economic downturn, about 15,000 people became homeless over the course of the year. There are an unknown number who are not counted in the survey. These are the homeless who couch surf with families and friends or stay in a weekly motel.

It makes me realize that our goal is for homelessness to be just a point in time for the families in our transitional housing program.

Right now, half of our families were raised by grandparents or other relatives. Like foster kids who age out of the foster care system, these young parents have no one left to fall back on. They didn’t have families or friends to give them a place to stay when they became homeless.

We can see the impact of the downturn in the economy in a lot of ways. Today, there are 64 families on the waiting list for an apartment. A surprising 30% of our families are two parent families. In a typical year, less than 10% of the families have two parents. We are also seeing more families from situational poverty rather than generational poverty.

We will help most of our families ensure that they don’t become homeless at any other point in time. We will provide about 36,000 bed nights this year. The average family will stay for 7 months. What they learn while they are here will ensure that, for at least our two year follow-up period, more than 8 out of 10 will not become homeless again.

-Laura Gray

Thursday, May 7, 2009

What Happens to the Kids When a Family Becomes Homeless? Part 1

My mother saw a news story the other day about a family that was about to lose their home. What stuck with her was how stressed the children were. The child being interviewed was worried about her mom and dad and scared because she didn't know what would happen to her family.

The 120+ children who will make their home at Community LINC this year went through that and then some. The child in the interview worried what would happen to her. It did happen to our kids.

So what is it like for the children when the family becomes homeless?

They will probably live in several places. In some cases, the family will separate or even dissolve.

First, they may “double up” and live with relatives. When the relatives get tired of having them, they may start sleeping in their cars or at campgrounds. Their parents may send them to stay with relatives to avoid shelter life. If the family is large, they will have to split up. Most emergency shelters can only handle families with a couple of kids. Once they go to a shelter, they have to adjust to an overcrowded, uncomfortable setting with no privacy.

Homeless children endure a constant barrage of stressful and traumatic experiences that have a profound effect on their development and ability to learn. They get sick more often than other children. Violence plays a bigger part in their lives.

But it gets better. The children at Community LINC are lucky relative to other homeless kids. They have a safe, stable place to stay while their parents get on their feet. They find friends and a group of adults who care about them. They get the support to catch up academically and they learn the lifeskills they need to succeed in school and eventually at work. They come to believe that they can have a better life.

In the words of some of our children:

A teenage boy: “Two years with Community LINC helped get my mother, little brother and I back on our feet and a second chance in Kansas City. While opening doors to a better life, Community LINC helped with my driver’s ed. class and my true dream career. I’m now in my last year of school, graduating as one of the top in my class. I still have my family. I work at my job of three years as a waiter and am now working towards getting a car and looking for money for college.”

Another teenager: “I am going to be a person who fights for what’s right. I am a person who believes in the law. If you have not guessed, I plan to be a lawyer.”

A girl in grade school: “Before we came to Community LINC, I struggled because I saw my mom crying because we did not have anywhere to go. I have a better life, a great life because of this program. In five years, I will be in school, a home and (will be) thinking about my past. I will live great. I (will) work all over the world.”

A boy in grade school: “Before I came to Community LINC I lived with my dad and my struggles. I didn’t have anywhere to live. Now, I am a person getting stronger and I am working on making myself better."

- Laura Gray