Homelessness Creation 101

Look Upstream to Find Out Why!

Photo Diane Nilan

If you want to know why and how we have so much homelessness in America, look upstream!

People experiencing homelessness don’t just drop from the sky. They don’t grow up wanting to be homeless. And, contrary to misguided opinion, people don’t want/choose to be homeless. They end up in this abysmal situation for a number of reasons, a few of which I’ll discuss in this post.

Loss of Housing

In the past 4 days I’ve heard 3 instances of property managers notifying existing tenants of sizable rent increases, evicting scores of tenants who’ve lived in units for years, and then doing cosmetic tweaks so they could take advantage of the hot rental market.

In frickin’-freezin’ New Brighton, MN, a suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul, frustrated tenants took their case to their city council. Good on them!

More than two dozen tenants showed up Tuesday at the New Brighton City Council meeting, many with young children in tow, pleading for assistance and more time to move. Some asked how it can be against the law in Minnesota to shut off the heat in the middle of winter but legal to kick people out of their homes. Council members listened closely for more than an hour.

Action for Local Homelessness Advocates

How about contacting your congressional representatives and asking them to give you a list of HUD-funded buildings with their lease terms so you can know what building’s going private next in your community?

Predictors of Adult Homelessness Often Start With Kids

Another predictor of adult homelessness is the experience of homelessness as kids. It’s not a guarantee, but several aspects of homelessness for kids can have a major impact — that can lead to homelessness — as they get older, among them:

“But sorely lacking in our diagnostic system is simple things like eating and peeing and pooping because they’re the foundation of everything — and breathing. These are foundational things, all of which go wrong when you get traumatized. The most elementary body functions go awry when you are terrified. So trauma treatment starts at the foundation of a body that can sleep, a body that can rest, a body that feels safe, a body that can move.”

  • High Mobility — now it’s the norm to talk about letting people sleep in parking lots as a solution to homelessness. California cities debate the wisdom of letting families and individuals “camp” in their cars. A Charlotte, NC car dealer, remembering his family’s experience sleeping in their car, has opened his lot to families. Good, but imagine the logistics of getting kids ready for school.
  • Abject Poverty and Bad Circumstances — not every kid growing up in poverty, usually accompanied by lots of hardships — will end up homeless, but it happens, understandably, more often than not. And sometimes it’s extra hard, like Earl’s life.

“By his count, from age 14 to 48 he lived in a place he could call his own just three times, for less than a total of nine months. He spent the rest of his time in mental hospitals, jails and on the streets. He was assaulted and robbed. He was diagnosed with ‘anti-social personality disorder, he said, and still remembers the language of the report: ‘Mr. Williams’ prognosis for recovery is poor. His element has never been successfully treated.’”

  • Disasters — I’m in S Georgia now, about to plunge into the area ravaged by Hurricane Michael back in 2018. Countless families lost housing, and are still without a decent place to stay. Christmas Day found dozens of families displaced by a fire in downtown Minneapolis. Homelessness is a reality for most of them, still, over a month later.
  • Foster Care — again, not a given, but as an excellent series in the Kansas City Star recently described, many kids endure horrific experiences while in the dysfunctional foster care system, and those experiences follow them into adulthood. They age-out of foster care, plunging into a cruel world with minimal tools to cope.

As part of the yearlong investigation, reporters surveyed nearly 6,000 inmates in 12 states that represented every region of the country. Of those inmates, 1 in 4 said they had spent time in foster care.

Readers, who responded in emails, phone calls, tweets and Facebook posts, shared thoughts and similar experiences.

But don’t take my word for it. I interviewed 3 families in rural American Falls, ID who are doubled up, a typical form of homelessness that lacks any predictability or stability, and often includes stressful elements. If you can’t feel their desperation, check your pulse.

We’ve just seen the latest statistics of how many students experiencing homelessness have been identified in schools across the land — a record number — over 1.5 million — and those are just those who’ve been identified. Many more are out there, invisible. All are at great risk for adult homelessness.

SchoolHouse Connection, a national advocacy group, announced these new numbers in a post which contains a number of actions that can be taken locally, in states, and nationally.

Federal education data released today by the National Center for Homeless Education (the U.S. Department of Education’s technical assistance center) show that public schools identified 1.5 million children and youth experiencing homelessness in the 2017–2018 school year — an 11% increase over the previous school year and the highest number ever recorded nationally.

The importance of looking “upstream,” to families and youth experiencing homelessness cannot be overstated. “‘Shelter providers can tell you that some of the [homeless] adults they see now are the same people they saw as kids,’ says Barbara Duffield, executive director of Schoolhouse Connection, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on ending youth homelessness.”

If we’re serious about ending homelessness, why not include the greatest segment of those without housing — families and youth — in HUD’s definition of homelessness?

Read more about this, and TAKE ACTION if you’re so inclined. www.helphomelesskidsnow.org

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 15 yrs. on US backroads.

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