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Homelessness On The Rise In New Hampshire From Lack Of Affordable Housing And Low Wages

Annual Report From NH Coalition to End Homelessness Shows
Alarming Rise In Homelessness Throughout New Hampshire

Today, the NH Coalition to End Homelessness (NHCEH) has released its sixth State of Homelessness in New Hampshire Report, which provides an overview of statewide indicators and trends in homelessness from 2015 to 2017.  After decreasing by 19% from 2015 to 2016, the overall number of people experiencing homelessness in New Hampshire rose by 11%  in 2017. This is in part due to increasing rents in conjunction with extremely low vacancy rates, which place low income renters in tenuous positions to find affordable housing.

“The increase in the numbers of children and families experiencing homelessness is concerning,” said Cathy Kuhn, director of the NHCEH. “Reversing this growth will require continued commitment and investment in the proven strategies that we know are successful in quickly rehousing those who become homeless.”

In the NH Labor News write up on NHCEH’s 2016 report, chronic homelessness was declining but there were serious concerns about affordable housing that could lead to a rise in homelessness.

This year saw a significant increase in homelessness in a few key areas.

  • After decreasing by 19% from 2015 to 2016, the overall number of people experiencing homelessness rose by 11% in 2017.
  • After dropping by 29% last year, the number of persons in families experiencing homelessness rose by 26%, from 539 people in 2016 to 680 people in 2017.
  • Unsheltered Homelessness rose by 22%, from 143 to 174 in 2017
  • From the 2015-2016 school year to the 2016-2017 school year, the statewide number of students experiencing homelessness rose by 6%. This rise continues a pattern of increases in the number of students experiencing homelessness in recent years.
  • Increases in median gross rents continued to outpace increases in median household renter incomes, diminishing an already sparse market of affordable housing. Vacancy rates continue to decrease to alarmingly low levels across New Hampshire, with the state average falling from 2.2% in 2015 to 1.4% in 2017. A healthy vacancy rate is normally around five percent.

Over the last year, Strafford county saw the largest increase in homelessness with a 67% increase from 2016, but everyone in the state is feeling the pressure.

“Last year, our shelter was at or over capacity every night from December to July. We’ve had to bunk beds and place extra mattresses and cots in spaces not normally meant for dorm rooms to accommodate the increased demand,” said Martha Stone of the Cross Roads House in Portsmouth.

The NHCEH found that families make up 47% of overall homeless population. Persons in families who have experienced homelessness often have histories of violence and trauma, which can have harmful effects on the long-term wellbeing of both adults and children.

“Every month, we receive calls for shelter that we are unable to house. We receive calls daily from families looking for space,” said Arolyn Chappell of the Friends Emergency Housing Program in Concord.

In 2016, family homelessness dropped by 29%, however those gains were quickly erased after a 26% increase in 2017. Eight of the ten counties in New Hampshire saw in increase in family homelessness in 2017.

“Due to a lack of affordable housing in conjunction with a shortage of emergency shelter beds for families across New Hampshire, many service providers report increasing numbers of families residing in cars, campgrounds, and other unsafe and unsanitary living conditions,” wrote NHCEH.

Over the last three years, unsheltered homelessness — those who are living in temporary shelters, such as emergency shelters or transitional housing, and those who are living unsheltered, such as in a tent, a car, or somewhere else not meant for human habitation — is down by 33% but 2017 New Hampshire saw a rise in unsheltered homelessness by 22%.

The largest concentration of unsheltered homelessness is in Hillsborough County, but thanks to recent efforts to combat homelessness, Hillsborough County reduced their unsheltered homelessness by nearly 48% since 2015.  Strafford County saw a 123% increase in unsheltered homelessness over the last year going from 18 to 38.

According to NHCEH, the key factors that lead to homelessness are “poverty and the lack of affordable housing.” While New Hampshire has one of the lowest unemployment rate’s in the country at 2.8%, workers are still struggling to find affordable housing.

One recent analysis reports that someone working full-time at minimum wage would need to work 120 hours per week in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the Fair Market Rent in New Hampshire,” NHCEH stated. “The same report lists New Hampshire as having the 14th highest housing wage in the country, with a worker having to earn almost $22 an hour in order to afford a modest two-bedroom unit in the state.

 

The difference between getting by paycheck-to-paycheck and becoming homeless is “one unexpected financial, medical or familial event.” Overall the poverty rate in New Hampshire fell slightly, 8.2% in 2015 to 7.3% in 2016,  NHCEH says “financial stability is still out of reach for many in New Hampshire.”

As previously stated the biggest issue facing New Hampshire is lack of affordable housing.  NHCEH found that monthly rental costs rose 8.8% to a median of $1259 per month.  This is unacceptable considering that workers wages only rose 3.3% over the last year.  The average renter makes $38,569 a year and pays over $15,000 a year in rent alone.

“We have seen a huge increase of people in threat of being evicted for nonpayment, and not just one or two months behind… five and six months, or more behind at times.” Dawn Ferringo, Prevention Services Division Director at Tri-County CAP in Lancaster.

To make matters worse, just finding an apartment has become increasingly difficult.  Statewide the “vacancy rate” for rentals fell to 1.7%.  Carroll County reported that  they have a no rentals available and Cheshire Country reports less than 1% vacancy.

“These low vacancy rates further exacerbate the scarcity of affordable housing in these regions of the state, making it even more difficult for low income renters to find stable housing.”

There are many things that need to be done to decrease the homeless population in New Hampshire and the NH Coalition to End Homelessness will continue to push for policies and programs that will help eliminate homelessness in NH.

“With a continued commitment to collaboration in conjunction with a renewed investment in prevention strategies, it is possible to end homelessness in NH, creating a state in which every citizen has the opportunity to achieve long-term stability, wellness and success.”


Full NHCEH report can be found here

A quick reference info-graphic from NHCEH

The NH Coalition to End Homelessness is a nonprofit organization with the purpose of eliminating the causes of homelessness through research, education, and advocacy. For more information about the NHCEH or the State of Homelessness in New Hampshire Report, visit www.nhceh.org or call 603-641-9441.

NHLN Coverage of the 2016 NHCEH annual report

Statewide Homelessness Is Down In New Hampshire, But For How Long?

A new report shows that progress has been made to reduce the homeless population in New Hampshire but systemic problems could lead to future increases.

The NH Coalition to End Homelessness just released their fifth annual report on the State of Homelessness in New Hampshire. The report show some good news in the fight to eliminate homelessness but the report also shows some alarming trends the could undue all of the gains made over the past few years.

“2016 saw significant reductions in our overall homeless numbers. Data among specific subpopulations of the homeless also indicates that important progress is being made,” wrote Cathy Kuhn Ph.D, Director of The NH Coalition to End Homelessness (NHCEH). “The number of individuals living unsheltered continued to drop over the past year and homelessness among veterans and among the chronically homeless also declined.”

The report shows that programs like the NH Governor’s Interagency Council on Homelessness (NHICH) are making real progress in combating homelessness.

“Under the leadership of the NHICH, the state has made significant progress towards creating a Supportive Housing Services Benefit for Medicaid beneficiaries who are experiencing homelessness. Research consistently shows that combining affordable housing with tenancy support services and care coordination can help those with the greatest challenges to live with stability and wellness,” Kuhn added.

With a goal of completely eliminating homelessness in New Hampshire, NHCEH reported a significant drop in homelessness in 2016.  Overall homelessness in New Hampshire dropped by 19% from 2014 numbers with Merrimack County seeing the largest drop at 56%.

This is great news, especially when added with the fact that “Chronic Homelessness,” that is people who have been continually homeless for over a year, fell by 17%.

The state also saw a 45% decrease in “unsheltered homelessness.”  This is a 63% drop from 2014 numbers. “Providing appropriate interventions as quickly as possible for people who are experiencing unsheltered homelessness, particularly for those who are newly homeless, is critical to preventing the development of additional complications associated with long-term, chronic homelessness,” NHCEH stated.

NHCEH also found that nearly half (41%) of the overall homeless population in New Hampshire are “persons in families.”  The good news is that family homelessness is also down by 29% in 2016.  221 homeless persons in families were able to move off of the streets and into stable housing this year.

The last bit of good news is that veteran homelessness in New Hampshire fell by 19% in 2016 and is down over 32% since 2014.  This dramatic drop over the last few years comes from a combination of state and federal assistance to end “functional homelessness” for veterans.

“In New Hampshire, significant efforts have been made to reach functional zero among the state homeless veteran population. With substantial support from the Governor’s Office, numerous agencies serving veterans across the state are working together to identify and immediately house any veteran who is either unsheltered or residing in an emergency shelter or transitional living program. These efforts are reflected in the continual declines that the state has seen in its homeless veteran population,” reported NHCEMH.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN

Overall the report shows astounding results in lowering the homeless population in New Hampshire, the report also shows some serious issues that need to be address that if unchanged could lead in an increase in homelessness.

It is a fact that New Hampshire has one of the lowest unemployment rates in that country, sitting at 2.7%.  Most counties in New Hampshire saw more than a 30% decrease in unemployment over the last two years.  This means that more people are working which should be good news in the fight to end homelessness but the NHCEH report highlighted some of New Hampshire’s unique problems.

“While low unemployment rates are being enjoyed across all New Hampshire counties, it’s important to note that even when working full time, many low income people are still unable to attain stable housing due to low wages and/or temporary and irregular work opportunities. One recent analysis reports that someone working full time at minimum wage would need to work 91 hours per week in order to afford a one bedroom apartment at the Fair Market Rent in New Hampshire.”

Gaining employment does not always lead to prosperity.  NHCEH notes that the poverty rate in New Hampshire, currently 8.9%, has grown by 6% a year since 2014. “Given the link between homelessness and poverty, the steady increase in the state has the potential to slow recent decreases in the number of homeless individuals and families,” stated NHCEMH.

To make matters worse wages have not kept up with the increased cost of housing.  Statewide wages have increased by 3.7% but have failed to keep up with the 8.8% increase in median rental costs.

Below is the breakdown of  the “median gross rent” for a 2-bedroom apartment by county in NH.  As you can see the median cost for a 2-bedroom apartment in Rockingham and Hillsborough are $1,321 and $1,278 a month, respectively.

median-rental-costs-nh-2016

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition the median “fair market rent” for a 1-bedroom apartment in New Hampshire is $861 a month. Remember, a full time (40 hour) minimum wage worker ($7.25 per hour) earns $290 a week or $1,160 a month. That means that 74% of their monthly paycheck would go to paying for housing alone and does not include food, heat, electricity, transportation or any other expenses.  The cost for a 2-bedroom apartment it ranges from 68% of their monthly paycheck in Coos County to 113% in Rockingham County.

To keep their housing costs below the 33% guideline, the National Low Income Housing Coalition also estimates that a worker would need an hourly wage of $16.55  for a 1-bedroom apartment and $21.09 for a 2-bedroom apartment. To meet the 33% guideline a minimum wage worker would need to work 91 hours a week for a 1-bedroom and 116 hours a week for a 2-bedroom apartment.

The New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness also highlighted another problem plaguing New Hampshire: a lack of affordable housing.  Nearly 30% of Granite Staters are renting and that means there is a very low “vacancy rate.” The vacancy rate is defined as “the percentage of available rental units in a given area.”  Statewide the vacancy rate is 1.5%, which leads many to struggle to find stable and affordable housing.

vacancy-rates

“These low vacancy rates further exacerbate the scarcity of affordable housing in these populous regions of the state, making it even more difficult for low income renters to find stable housing. The combined impact of rising rents and declining vacancy rates often leads many individuals and families to still live in temporary rooming houses or motels, often thought of as the housing of last resort by many advocates,” noted NHCEH. “These living environments can be particularly difficult for children and families who are forced to relinquish their privacy and to live in very cramped and sometimes unsafe quarters in order to maintain some semblance of shelter.”

These three factors (stagnant wages, high rent increases, and low vacancy rates) should be a warning sign to everyone that New Hampshire is teetering on the very edge of dramatic increase in the homeless population.  Many Granite Staters a struggling to hold on. In a 2013 survey, 76% of people national, said they are living paycheck-to-paycheck and more than 47% said they do not even have enough to cover a $400 emergency expense.

All it would take for many of these people is one incident, one missed paycheck to be in real danger of ending up homeless. If our goal is to completely eliminate homelessness, then we need to start by increasing wages, slowing the increasing cost of renting, and building more affordable housing across the state.

Dr. Kuhn summed it up perfect by saying:

“Once again, I am so proud of the excellent work being done by service providers, volunteers, advocates, policy makers, community leaders, and concerned citizens to end homelessness in our state. It is clear that our work is making an impact! Despite our progress, however, there are still far too many men, women and children who are homeless in New Hampshire. Over the next year, it will be important that we continue our commitment to permanently and immediately house anyone who falls into homelessness in New Hampshire. For our part, the Coalition remains steadfast in our belief that, together, we can and will end homelessness in New Hampshire, I invite you to join us as we work towards this achievable goal.”


Until we eliminate homelessness many find refuge in community shelters. These shelters are always in need of donations and here is a quick list of things, aside from food, your local shelter could use.

A list from the Homeless Shelter Directory:

Tooth Brush
Tooth Paste
Dental Floss
Bandaids
Underwear
Neosporin
Cortisone Cream
Cotton Swabs
Listerine
Deodorant
Razors
Nail Clippers
Baby Wipes
Thick Socks
Batteries
Feminine hygiene products
Anti-diarrhea tablets

(I would also add linens, pillows, and blankets)

The NH Charitable Foundation also released their list of 12 Things Food Pantries Wish They Had…But Might Not Ask For as a guide for donations.

We Are Failing To Uphold Our Promises To Veterans

Image by  DVIDSHUB  CC Filickr

Image by DVIDSHUB
CC Filickr

Today we honor the brave men and women who answered the call and put their lives at risk to serve our country.   The unfortunate fact is that our government is not doing enough to help these veterans when they come home.

Republicans in Congress have been forcing deeper and deeper cuts to every program in the government – and that is hurting our veterans.

You would think that the party that is always looking to start another war – so their friends can make obscene profits off constructing weapons of destruction – would be the first to stand up and say “no” when it comes to cutting services that affect our veterans. Sadly, this is not the case.

Almost everyone knows of the troubles that are plaguing the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA is responsible for providing healthcare to our returning vets. VA health centers are overcrowded, under-staffed and grossly under-funded, leading to long wait times for vets, particularly those with mental diseases.

As usual, the Republicans’ answer to fixing the problems within the VA is to fire the director and gut the program’s funding. Now they are proposing an even worse idea, privatizing the entire VA Healthcare system to a for-profit contractor.

The Republicans’ style of gratitude towards veterans continues, as they make drastic cuts to every social program in the federal budget.

Programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, that provided food assistance to over 900,000 veterans in 2014.

Nearly a million veterans are living on food stamps because our returning vets face a higher than average (7.2%) unemployment rate, leading them to take dead-end low wage jobs.

Just raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would help over 1 million struggling veterans. However, the Republicans in Congress refuse to even consider the idea of raising the minimum wage – even though an increase is supported by a strong majority of Americans (71%).

What about the drastic cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development? In 2013, Republicans cut almost 9% of HUD’s overall budget. This means that millions of low-income families would not get housing assistance.

The HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) was created specifically to assist veterans in getting the housing assistance they need. Over the last eight years, HUD-VASH has given out, on average, 10,000 vouchers a year to veterans.

That may seem like a lot, but it is nowhere near enough. Too many of our veterans are still falling through the cracks and ending up homeless on the streets.

In 2014, veterans made up over 8% of the overall homeless population. Nearly 50,000 veterans found themselves homeless last year and HUD-VASH could only afford to give out 10,000 vouchers. Some gratitude.

Of the nearly 50,000 veterans that are living on the streets today, 50% of them suffer from a mental or physical disability. This brings us right back to Department of Veterans Affairs and their inability to treat the metal disorders that stem from sending our brave men and women into combat.

So while everyone else is just “Thanking veterans for their service” today, I am demanding that we do more than give the annual lip service and actually show our veterans our gratitude.

Start by raising the minimum wage, increasing funding to HUD, increasing funding to SNAP and getting more people working inside the VA to reduce wait times. That is how we honor our vets.

You Will Not Believe What Wal-Mart is Doing

Image via WikiCommons

Image via WikiCommons

You have got to be kidding me.  

Wal-Mart is rewarding associates who donate money to the Wal-Mart PAC, which works to elect candidates like Speaker John Boehner and Senator Ted Cruz who vehemently oppose raising the minimum wage.

In this excellent article (Wal-Mart’s Unusual Rewards for Employees Who Give to Its PAC) by Josh Eidelson, he reports:

“Liberal groups and a union-backed Walmart worker group are asking the Federal Election Commission to investigate Wal-Mart Stores’ (WMT) policy of rewarding contributions to its political action committee with donations to charity. Under the policy, every $1 an employee donates to Wal-Mart’s PAC, which supports such probusiness candidates as Ohio Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, and Arkansas Democratic Senator Mark Pryor, triggers a $2 donation to a charity for Wal-Mart employees in need.”

Using charitable contributions to reward PAC donations has become a widespread practice among U.S. corporations, which are restricted by law from donating directly to their PACs. At least seven times over the past two decades, FEC commissioners have been divided over whether to restrict companies from matching the political donations with philanthropic cash.

While such companies as Coca-Cola (KO) and Boeing (BA) also match PAC dollars with charity dollars, Wal-Mart’s policy is unusual. Rather than just a 1-to-1 match, it offers 2 to 1. And instead of giving employees a choice of charities to support, it sends all the matching money to its Associates in Critical Need Trust, which benefit employees facing “extreme economic hardship due to situations outside of their control, including natural disasters.”

That’s right, for every one dollar that workers give to the Wal-Mart PAC, the corporation will donate two dollars to their own charity organization for workers who are suffering financial difficulties.

The Associates in Critical Need Trust is a 501 (c)(3) charity that provides “up to $1,500 to employees facing challenges such as homelessness or illness.”

Here are three suggestions for Walmart. 1) Start by paying your workers a living wage so they aren’t forced into homelessness. 2) Provide workers with paid sick time so they can heal without the fear of losing their job for being sick. 3)  Provide workers with healthcare so they will not be forced into financial ruin when they become sick or injured. (Note: Wal-Mart just cut another 30,000 part time workers out of their employee healthcare, but thanks to the Affordable Care Act they can get coverage through their state exchange.)

I hope the FEC tears Wal-Mart apart for violating the Federal Election Campaign Act.

Granite State Rumblings: Combating Homelessness

Image by Pedro Ribeiro Simões on FLICKR CC

Image by Pedro Ribeiro Simões on FLICKR CC

“If they don’t get sheltered, some of them will die.”

These were the words spoken by my doctor yesterday at my annual check-up. We were talking about the impending blizzard and some of his patients who are homeless. The pain on his face as he said that sentence was hard to see.

As I write, the wind driven snow is piling up outside of my kitchen window. I am warm, dry, and comfy and I have the generator ready to go should the need arise. But my doctor’s words are running through my mind.  “If they don’t get sheltered, some of them will die.”

And so I begin this newsletter and I wonder. How many homeless families and individuals are there in the state? Have they found shelter? Where will they go? Many of the businesses that could provide shelter are closed because of the storm – even the Dunkin Donuts is closed. The schools are locked up tight and the library’s shuttered. With all of the media reporting on the storm I have heard nothing about the homeless. Have you?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires communities to conduct sheltered counts of people living in emergency shelter or transitional housing and unsheltered counts of people living in a place unfit for human habitation (such as in an abandoned building or in a park) biennially. This is known as the Point-in-Time Count.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, January 28th) the count to identify homeless people in New Hampshire will be conducted. The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services’ Bureau of Homeless and Housing Services (BHHS), together with service providers who serve homeless individuals and families, will identify the number of sheltered and unsheltered persons within a 24-hour period.

These counts are critical for homelessness providers, researchers, funders, and advocates, as they are the only source of national data on the homeless population. But, counting unsheltered homeless people is a daunting task.

Not only are many unsheltered homeless people hard to find, but members of some homeless subpopulations, like homeless youth and LGBTQ individuals, congregate in different areas than larger populations and may try to avoid being identified as homeless, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Locating them requires different strategies. And in New Hampshire that task falls on the combined efforts of the three local homeless Continuums of Care (Nashua, Manchester and the “Balance of State”) along with the NH Coalition to End Homelessness.

The most recently available state data on homelessness comes from the January 2014 State of New Hampshire Official Point-In-Time Count. Data from the 2014 count show that 1,635 people experienced homelessness in New Hampshire on a given night.

Significant findings from the 2014 count include:

  • Families with children comprise 43 percent of the overall homeless population (a total of 704 people, composing 258 households).
  • Slightly more than a third of the single adult homeless population is considered chronically homeless (341 people).
  • Veterans comprise 11 percent of New Hampshire’s homeless population (183 people).

Source: The State of Homelessness in New Hampshire 2014, NHCEH

Although many people still perceive homelessness to be a problem primarily among single men, and to a lesser extent single women, homelessness among families is a growing concern in many communities. Family homelessness in New Hampshire increased sharply in the years following the most recent economic recession. In recent years, however, the state has seen gradual decreases in the number of families living in shelters or on the streets on the day of the Point-in-Time Count.

The state’s population of homeless people in families decreased by 10 percent from 779 persons in 2012 to 704 persons in 2014. Seven counties saw decreases in family homelessness. However, Strafford County, where I live and my doctor has his practice, saw a 47 percent increase in family homelessness according to the NHCEH report, a 13,5 percent increase in student homelessness, and a nearly 67 percent increase in unsheltered homeless people between 2012 and 2014.

My doctor should not be the only one worried.

GROWING UP GRANITE

What is homelessness?

The NH Coalition to End Homelessness states the following:

Homelessness is a highly complex issue that may assume a range of scenarios and have varying effects on each person that experiences it. Social service providers, policy makers and researchers continue to have ongoing dialogue about what it means to be homeless; yet, the responses remain inconsistent.

Health centers funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) use the following:

A homeless individual is defined as “an individual who lacks housing (without regard to whether the individual is a member of a family), including an individual whose primary residence during the night is a supervised public or private facility (e.g., shelters) that provides temporary living accommodations, and an individual who is a resident in transitional housing.” A homeless person is an individual without permanent housing who may live on the streets; stay in a shelter, mission, single room occupancy facilities, abandoned building or vehicle; or in any other unstable or non-permanent situation.
[Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C., 254b)]

An individual may be considered to be homeless if that person is “doubled up,” a term that refers to a situation where individuals are unable to maintain their housing situation and are forced to stay with a series of friends and/or extended family members. In addition, previously homeless individuals who are to be released from a prison or a hospital may be considered homeless if they do not have a stable housing situation to which they can return. A recognition of the instability of an individual’s living arrangements is critical to the definition of homelessness.
(HRSA/Bureau of Primary Health Care, Program Assistance Letter 99-12, Health Care for the Homeless Principles of Practice)

Programs funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) use a different, more limited definition of homelessness.
[found in the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-22, Section 1003)]

  • An individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence;
  • An individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, including a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport, or camping ground;
  • An individual or family living in a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements (including hotels and motels paid for by Federal, State or local government programs for low-income individuals or by charitable organizations, congregate shelters, and transitional housing);
  • An individual who resided in a shelter or place not meant for human habitation and who is exiting an institution where he or she temporarily resided;
  • An individual or family who will imminently lose their housing [as evidenced by a court order resulting from an eviction action that notifies the individual or family that they must leave within 14 days, having a primary nighttime residence that is a room in a hotel or motel and where they lack the resources necessary to reside there for more than 14 days, or credible evidence indicating that the owner or renter of the housing will not allow the individual or family to stay for more than 14 days, and any oral statement from an individual or family seeking homeless assistance that is found to be credible shall be considered credible evidence for purposes of this clause]; has no subsequent residence identified; and lacks the resources or support networks needed to obtain other permanent housing; and
  • Unaccompanied youth and homeless families with children and youth defined as homeless under other Federal statutes who have experienced a long-term period without living independently in permanent housing, have experienced persistent instability as measured by frequent moves over such period, and can be expected to continue in such status for an extended period of time because of chronic disabilities, chronic physical health or mental health conditions, substance addiction, histories of domestic violence or childhood abuse, the presence of a child or youth with a disability, or multiple barriers to employment.

Hence different agencies use different definitions of homelessness, which affect how various programs determine eligibility and services for individuals and families at the state and local level.

This point is made again in The NH Coalition to End Homelessness’ December 2014 report, The State of Homelessness in New Hampshire 2014, which states, “it is clear that inconsistencies about the definition of homelessness do have serious implications for the state’s ability to adequately respond to the problem and to serve those who are in need.”

Granite State Rumblings: New Rankings on Child Homelessness

The following is a compilation of information and direct quotes from the National Center on Family Homelessness, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and an article in the Huffington Post by David Crary and Lisa Leff of the Associated Press.

America’s Youngest Outcasts, a new report prepared by The National Center on Family Homelessness, ranks the 50 states on how they are addressing child homelessness from best (1) to worst (50). The number of homeless children in the U.S. has surged in recent years to an all-time high, amounting to one child in every 30, according to the report.

The National Center on Family Homelessness calculates that nearly 2.5 million American children were homeless at some point in 2013. The number is based on the Department of Education’s latest count of 1.3 million homeless children in public schools, supplemented by estimates of homeless pre-school children not counted by the DOE.

Child homelessness increased by 8 percent nationally from 2012 to 2013, according to the report, which warned of potentially devastating effects on children’s educational, emotional and social development, as well as on their parents’ health, employment prospects and parenting abilities.

Carmela DeCandia, director of the national center and a co-author of the report, noted that the federal government has made progress in reducing homelessness among veterans and chronically homeless adults.

“The same level of attention and resources has not been targeted to help families and children,” she said. “As a society, we’re going to pay a high price, in human and economic terms.”

Major causes on child homelessness in the U.S. include: (1) the national’s high poverty rate; (2) a lack of affordable housing across the nation; (3) the continuing impacts of the Great Recession; (4) racial disparities; (5) the challenges of single parenting; and (6) the ways in which traumatic experiences, especially domestic violence, precede and prolong homelessness for families.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of American families become homeless. These families are hidden from our view. They move frequently, and many are doubled-up in overcrowded apartments with relatives or friends. Others sleep in cars and campgrounds or send their children to stay with relatives to avoid shelter life. Once in a shelter, despite the efforts of dedicated staff, life can be noisy, chaotic, and lack privacy. Homelessness increases the likelihood that families will separate or dissolve.

As the gap between housing costs and income continues to widen, more and more families are at risk of homelessness. Even a seemingly minor event can trigger a catastrophic outcome and catapult a family onto the streets.

Families experiencing homelessness are under considerable stress. Homelessness is a devastating experience that significantly impacts the health and well-being of adults and children. Often, members of homeless families have experienced trauma. These experiences affect how children and adults think, feel, behave, relate, and cope.

The report includes a composite index ranking the states on the extent of child homelessness, efforts to combat it, and the overall level of child well-being. States with the best scores were Minnesota, Nebraska and Massachusetts. At the bottom were Alabama, Mississippi and California.

Shahera Hyatt, age 29 and director of the California Homeless Youth Project, was homeless on and off throughout adolescence, starting when her parents were evicted when she was in 7th grade. At 15, she and her older brother took off and survived by sleeping in the tool sheds, backyards and basements of acquaintances.

“These terms like ‘couch surfing’ and ‘doubled-up’ sound a lot more polite than they are in practice,” she said. “For teenagers, it might be exchanging sex for a place to stay or staying someplace that does not feel safe because they are so mired in their day-to-day survival needs.”

Near San Francisco, Gina Cooper and her son, then 12, had to vacate their home in 2012 when her wages of under $10 an hour became insufficient to pay the rent. After a few months as nomads, they found shelter and support with Home & Hope, an interfaith program in Burlingame, California, and stayed there five months before Cooper, 44, saved enough to be able to afford housing on her own.

“It was a painful time for my son,” Cooper said. “On the way to school, he would be crying, ‘I hate this.'”

Executive director Kathleen Baushke, of Transition House homeless shelters in Santa Barbara, said that even after her staff gives clients money for security deposits and rent, they go months without finding a place to live.

“Landlords aren’t desperate,” she said. “They won’t put a family of four in a two-bedroom place because they can find a single professional who will take it.”

She said neither federal nor state housing assistance nor incentives for developers to create low-income housing have kept pace with demand.

“We need more affordable housing or we need to pay people $25 an hour,” she said. “The minimum wage isn’t cutting it.”

The new report by the National Center on Family says remedies for child homelessness should include an expansion of affordable housing, education and employment opportunities for homeless parents, and specialized services for the many mothers rendered homeless due to domestic violence.

But efforts to obtain more resources to combat child homelessness are complicated by debate over how to quantify it.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development conducts an annual one-day count of homeless people that encompasses shelters, as well as parks, underpasses, vacant lots and other locales. Its latest count, for a single night in January 2013, tallied 610,042 homeless people, including 130,515 children.

Defenders of HUD’s method say it’s useful in identifying the homeless people most in need of urgent assistance. Critics contend that HUD’s method grossly underestimates the extent of child homelessness and results in inadequate resources for local governments to combat it. They prefer the Education Department method that includes homeless families who are staying in cheap motels or doubling up temporarily in the homes of friends or relatives.

The bipartisan Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2014 would fix HUD’s definition to include homeless children and youth who have been verified as homeless by its own homeless assistance programs, other federal programs, and public school district homeless liaisons. It doesn’t cost taxpayers a single penny, and it includes no new mandates. The Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2014 will help over one million homeless children and youth lead safer, healthier lives and have a better chance for a brighter future. And it will help to ensure that the federal government’s response to homelessness is based on an honest and accurate understanding of the problem, and by empowering those closest to the problem to design and implement the best local response.

It is easy for you to Take Action on this important legislation by clicking here.

NH Homeless Inforgraphic

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