Friday, August 31, 2012

It's complicated

The world of homelessness is complicated. Think of a collage of faces - teens living on their own, children living with their families, single moms and dads and their children, two parent families, and adults who have been living on the streets for years. The needs are very different and the solutions are just as varied. It’s a complicated picture.

We don’t pretend to be an expert in providing services to anyone but homeless families. We focus on families because the lives of the children can be changed if their parent(s) can get on their feet. And, we focus on equipping the parents to provide for themselves and their children.

We’re about to enter into a study with Dr. Jeff Ehrlich from Park University to identify the characteristics of the families who succeed and those who fail. So, I’ve been analyzing the data we already collect to find correlations that predict success (leaving for permanent housing) for our families.

The strongest correlation I’ve found isn’t with the length of time they stay in our program or even whether they are employed when they leave (think subsidized housing). The strongest correlation is with their self-sufficiency scores at entry. No big surprise really. It fits with the conclusion a friend of mine drew in her doctoral thesis studying homeless teens. Inner resiliency was a key factor for the teens who were able to exit homelessness.

That made me look at the self-sufficiency assessment scores for some of the families I know with new eyes. I have new hope for a single father who became homeless after his wife died in 2010. She had kidney disease from the time they married in 1999, but still gave birth to two daughters. He lost a good job taking care of his family during her protracted final illness.

From personal experience, I know that the loss of a spouse is one of the biggest blows in life. But, I was fortunate. My husband was older, our children were grown and helped in his care. My employer gave me family leave. He had life insurance, and I didn’t lose my job.

We all experience difficult passages in our lives, but we have different “safety nets.”  Mine was bigger and stronger than our single dad.

Please remember that you can’t paint the homeless with one brush. The lives of homeless families are complicated in ways you may never experience, but you can hopefully understand.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

No easy answer to budget deficits

One of the observations from the eighth brief in the Institute for Children Poverty and Homelessness’ series highlighting the characteristics of families who become homeless with young children: “Children who attend early education programs are also more likely to succeed in school and earn higher salaries and less likely to commit crime or utilize public assistance.”

Here’s a disturbing thought for the future. Across the board budget cuts in January 2013 would eliminate funding for 364 Head Start jobs and serve 1,745 fewer children in Missouri alone according to a July 25, 2012, report called Under Threat: Sequestration’s Impact on Nondefense Jobs and Services from Senator Tom Harkin. Senator Harkin Chairs the Senate Appropriattions Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies.