On Sunday, the CBS program “60 Minutes” ran a segment about homeless children.
As you may have seen on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites, the segment was very compelling. Children confessed to their shame, embarrassment, and fear; parents spoke of their guilt and desperation; and a local homeless liaison added some context to the situation, explaining how homelessness has not only affected more and more people in her community, but tends to last longer than in the past. Reporter Scott Pelley painted a vivid, gripping portrait of poverty, unemployment, and the toll that economic hardship has on the most vulnerable among us: children.
But what the segment does not examine is solutions.
The segment is right to note that homelessness in growing. In our latest report, we identify that homelessness has increased since the beginning of the recession and that economic indicators of homelessness suggest that the number will rise again before decreasing.
But there are things we can do.
The long and short is usually this: housing. Families experience homelessness when they cannot find housing they can afford. In the segment, we saw that unemployment was often the catalyst to families and children experiencing homelessness.
When families are at-risk of experiencing homelessness, communities and agencies can intervene with an array of services to curb homelessness before it starts. Often, families can seek federal assistance, including TANF to supplement their family resources to prevent homelessness.
Should homelessness occur, communities can work swiftly to ensure that families and children move out of homelessness with a strategy called rapid re-housing. As the segment portrayed, elongated periods of homelessness can have a debilitating effect on the entire family unit. As such, it is often far more effective to find housing first; permanent housing is often the foundation necessary for a family to seek employment, continue education, and build the stability to move forward.
It seems simple and absurdly obvious – the solution to homelessness is housing. But it’s remarkable how often it needs to be said. When a family or child [or individual] becomes homeless, the solution is first and foremost – housing. From that place of stability, many if not most are able to work out the challenges that lead to their homelessness: unemployment, familial conflict, medical conditions, etc.