Hardship in America, Part 3: Homelessness Growing Among Families with Children

November 22, 2011 at 4:11 pm

The number of homeless families has been growing in recent years, but major programs that have proven effective at helping families find stable housing will serve fewer of them next year because of limited funding.

Since the recession began in late 2007, the number of homeless families with children living in temporary shelters has risen by 28 percent, to nearly 170,000 families in 2010, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  Roughly four times as many families are living “doubled-up” or in other unstable home situations, school enrollment data from the Department of Education data suggest.

Numerous studies have documented the harmful long-term impact of housing instability on children.  Compared to other kids, children whose families are homeless or living in unstable homes:

  • Perform less well in school, are more likely to repeat a grade, and are less likely to complete high school — and the effects worsen with cumulative moves.
  • Experience higher rates of mental health problems and developmental delays.
  • Will more likely have physical health problems such as asthma or ear infections.  (The Center for Housing Policy provides helpful summaries of the research here and here.)

Equally well-documented, housing assistance dramatically improves housing stability for low-income families that receive it.  A recent study of families with children eligible for welfare assistance, for example, concluded that housing vouchers reduced the incidence of homelessness among these families by 75 percent.  (Housing vouchers, which are federally funded, enable low-income households to rent modest housing in the private market at an affordable cost.)

Due to funding limitations, however, only about 1 in 4 eligible low-income families receives a housing voucher or other type of federal rental assistance.

Moreover, even fewer families will likely receive rental assistance in the future.  Congress provided $1.5 billion for homelessness prevention in the 2009 Recovery Act, which likely averted an even sharper increase in family homelessness in 2010 (see graph), yet most local housing agencies will exhaust these funds well before the end of next year.  Also, in HUD’s fiscal year 2012 budget, total funding for programs will fall by $3.7 billion (9 percent) below the 2011 level.  Hardest hit are public housing and programs that promote the production of affordable housing.  But even programs that fared relatively well in the budget, such as the Housing Choice Voucher program, will likely serve fewer families next year due to inadequate funding.

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More About Douglas Rice

Douglas Rice

As a Senior Policy Analyst, Rice's work focuses on the impact of federal housing policy on low-income families.

Full bio | Blog Archive | Research archive at CBPP.org

3 Comments Add Yours ↓

Comments are listed in reverse chronological order.

  1. Nicholle Lotfalla #

    I believe these numbers are low as they only include those fortunate enough to have temporary shelter. I understand that in MN the shelters are full and thousands are turned away nightly, and feel they no longer build shelters (I have not witnessed any new ones here in MN for years.. I hope I’m wrong here, but I watch this topic) to report a false low #.

    I get really frustrated, people are critical and say get a job. Not understanding if you are fortunate enough to have food, you may not be fortunate enough to afford a phone to try and have a contact #, or even maintain your voting rights for that matter without an address. Seems like a way to systematically shut the poor up, and take away their rights.

    Also the latest studies available suggest that 40% of MN homeless work, and 25% full time (according to Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless FYI) (Minimum wage is not enough..is pretty much unethical business and govt practice that is subsidized by the taxpayer.. and clearly working 1 job is not enough. Maybe we have no jobs because we all need 2 or 3? Just a thought)

    Also legitimate debt can create homelessness (ex. medical bills). If you like me hate debt,pay em, and then there is nothing left to live on. Its all like being buried alive.. (Having experiences homelessness multiple times, beginning as a child I was fortunate to attend college one year, 4.0,working 70+ hours a week and kids led to nervous breakdown. Would love to go back someday. Something had to give.

  2. 3

    Thank you for this blog post.

    I have been involved in advocacy to end homelessness for over 20 years. This unfortunately means I have seen many homeless kids become homeless adults.

    In one of the most glaring examples of how homelessness hurts children, I know of two kids from the same family who were abandoned frequently by their mom throughout their childhood and teen years. They lived in and out of homelessness as kids and teens because the child protection system failed them, the foster care system failed them, and society overall failed them.

    Now, one of the formerly homeless kids lives in supportive housing … because he is also a formerly homeless adult. His brother lives in and out of jail … another place formerly homeless kids spend far too much time.


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