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The Young and the Homeless

Submitted by admin on May 10, 2010 – 8:37 amOne Comment

By Alan Smithee

It’s become something of a cliche to say that the economy has increased the amount of homeless people, however according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)  from a given night in 2008 to a given night in 2009 there was a 32 percent increase in homelessness in Houston.  The latest figures from HUD show that there are approximately 40,000 homeless people in Texas and of those, there are 10,000 in Houston alone.

Star of Hope’s Director of Public Relations, Scott Arthur, states that approximately 20-25%

photo by Scott Arthur

percent of the people that are homeless in Houston are children. He goes on to say that 5 percent to 10 percent of Star of Hope’s new clients are women and families that have become victims of the economy. A 2009 article from the Associated Press states that over 5 percent of the children in Texas are homeless.

A 2004 report from the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County, Inc (CHHHC) estimated that in 2004 only 5,333 homeless people were recorded as living in a shelter. However, Arthur states that in 2009 the Star of Hope alone saw approximately 6,600 unique individuals which amounts to about “half of the city’s homeless population.”

Arthur went on to state that the Star of Hope’s Women and Family Emergency Shelter has been over capacity for two years. He describes women and children sleeping in every available space in the building. “We’ve got people sleeping in the lobby,” said Arthur. He also stated that the Men’s Shelter and the Transitional Living Facility are “almost always at capacity.”

Arthur optimistically described how Star of Hope works to get families off streets by taking them into shelters, but he recognizes the difficulty of the work. “The cycle continues for so many reasons and kids are the victims of that,” said Arthur.  He went on to state that despite an increasing amount of homeless people of all ages “all agencies in Houston only have about 5,000 beds.”

The  CHHHC report went on to say that in Houston “every year over 100 unaccompanied children are reported to have stayed in a shelter.” Since Star of Hope does not work with unaccompanied children Arthur could neither confirm or deny the amount in Houston. A 2008 report from the National Center on Family Homelessness (NCFH) ranked Texas 50th in the nation when it came to implementing policies to combat homelessness amongst families.

The CHHHC report states: “housing costs, lack of jobs, lack of job training programs, and lack of child care are factors that contribute to the homelessness of these families.” Dr. Ellen Bassuk, NCFH president and founder, stated that one of the main things leading to homelessness in families is often one of the most overlooked, poverty. “Poverty is a structural factor in homelessness,” said Bassuk. Bassuk told the AP that 23 percent of Texas’ children live in poverty compared to 18 percent nationwide.

The NCFH report cites other factors that put families at risk for homelessness, such as a lack of employment opportunities and the percentage of average monthly income that a family has to spend on rent.The report states that “a two-bedroom unit priced at the fair market rent (FMR) falls outside of the financial reach of a full-time worker earning minimum wage in Texas.”

Bassuk added that the number of affordable housing units throughout the state contributes to the difficulty of families finding housing. Those who can find affordable housing often may need assistance to offset the difference between the cost of living and wages. However, government assistance is difficult to receive.

The report states that the Section 8 housing voucher program is critically underfunded. “Current funding for the voucher program meets the needs of only one-quarter of homeless families. Providing housing at fair market rent for homeless families in Texas would cost an additional $6,000 per family, an annual total cost of $834 million, or approximately 2 percent of the state budget,” reads the report.

Approximately 51 percent of the households on the Section 8 waiting list and 49 percent of the public housing waiting lists are low-income families. According to the CHHHC report, the factors contributing to homelessness for unaccompanied youth differ slightly from the factors that contribute to homelessness amongst families.

The CHHHC report includes drug use, physical and emotional abuse and the failure of social services to help youth as factors contributing to child homelessness. It goes on to state “almost half of the children, ages zero to 12, and over two thirds of the unaccompanied youth ages 13 to 18, who were living in shelters in 2004 were African American.” Approximately 10 percent of the children who were homeless in 2004 “had a disabling condition.”

One of the main contributors to homelessness amongst children aged 13-years-old to 18-years-old is family conflict over sexual orientation. A 2007 report from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) states that “of the estimated 1.6 million homeless American youth, between 20 and 40 percent identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”

The NGLTF report continues by saying “one study found that 26 percent of gay teens who came out to their parents/guardians were told they must leave home. LGBT youth also leave home due to physical, sexual and emotional abuse.” The NGLTF report states that homeless LGBT youth are statistically more likely to engage in higher risk behavior than their heterosexual counterparts including drug use, participation in the sex trade and attempt suicide at least once. “Also, LGBT youth report they are threatened, belittled and abused at shelters by staff as well as other residents,” reads the report.

One of the criticisms that has been levied at the State of Texas by organizations like Bassuk’s is that the state has not been active in planning to combat homelessness. Bassuk said that Texas currently doesn’t have a 10-year plan for addressing homelessness. The NCFH report also states that Texas does not have a statewide definition of homelessness.

Stuart Campbell with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) said the state has begun initiatives to combat homelessness. “Last year the Texas Legislature appropriated $20 million for homeless housing. It was the first time the state approved programs specifically for homelessness,” he said. Campbell added that the first round of funds will only be going to the state’s eight largest cities, none of which are in the Rio Grande Valley.

The cities that do receive the funds will have wide latitude as to how they can spend the money. According to Campbell, some of the cities are using it to build more shelters while others are using it to provide rental assistance. In addition to the state funds, the federal government allocated approximately $100 million to Texas to combat homelessness. Of those funds, approximately $60 million went straight to cities and counties and approximately $40 million went to the TDHCA. Schools districts received $6 million of the monies.

Campbell responded to the criticism from the NCFH by saying that the state is in the planning stages of a plan to combat homelessness. “We are in the process of drafting and developing a 10-year plan,” said Campbell. He went on to say that the state “doesn’t want to write a plan and have it sit on the shelf like so many other plans do…We want to put a lot of thought into it.” Even without a statewide plan, Bassuk said, there are many steps that can be taken to help homeless students and homeless people in general. “The trick is outreach and the coordination of community services,” said Bassuk.

One Comment »

  • "Quinn" says:

    Alan, thank you for writing this piece. Homelessness is something that “we” as a whole sweep under the rug. I especially appreciate you pointing out underlining variables that effect/contribute to homelessness. It defiantly goes beyond not having a roof over your head. Sometimes there’s more to “just getting a job” for someone who is experiencing homelessness.
    I work for an unsaid shelter who caters towards young adults. Everything that you have mentioned is on point and ten fold. There is something that’s backwards, Alan. One would think that money would just be thrown into programs that aid families, children and others who are experiencing homelessness. These programs could practically be maintained by the residents themselves if the appropriate programs were installed. Some of these programs are brilliant, yet the money just isn’t there - or not enough money is coming in.
    Thank you, once again.

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