Wednesday, January 18, 2012

You've Got a Friend

Having a friend, or more formally, a support system, is something that differentiates poor mothers who don’t slide into homelessness from those who do.

The fifth policy brief from the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness (ICPH) on the characteristics of fragile families who become homeless makes a number of points. But, the key role of family and friends is the one that struck me the most.

If a poor mother has support from family and friends, she will be able to work more, she will earn more, and she will rely less on welfare than those with weaker bonds.

So, why would that be the case?

The safety net of family and friends relieves some of the financial strains of poverty – they help with groceries, diapers, clothing, and rent. Family and friends who can help out in an emergency with child care or transportation make it possible for a poor mom to get to work and can mean the difference between keeping and losing a job.

The picture for poor mothers who have weak or erratic support is bleak. They struggle to get a foothold in the labor market and end up homeless more often than their counterparts with strong support.

It’s hard to prove or disprove, but we’ve always felt that one of the reasons our program is so successful in transitioning families out of homelessness, is that we give them a readymade community of support. The families live together on a single campus. The adults attend life skills classes and mental wellness groups together. The children play and study together in their classes. They meet other people at the same place in their lives and making the same life changes. They watch out for each other’s kids. They give each other rides.

First they have new neighbors and then they have new friends. And, now we know how important those friendships can be.