From the Director: Families In Trouble

BY: JOSH SPRING, GCCH Director

Today, Families with Children are the primary face of homelessness in the United States of America.  As we know, families come in all shapes and sizes; two parents, one parent, many children, one child, few children…, and so do families experiencing homelessness.  In 2010 here at the office of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition we noticed an increase in the number of families calling or coming to the office seeking assistance because they either were experiencing homelessness or were on the edge of homelessness.  The Homeless Coalition is not a direct service provider, meaning we don’t directly provide, housing, food, shelter, and other services.  Our Members provide those services; we are the big picture, systematic change organization.  So when we started hearing babies crying in our front lobby, it was not only new, but alarming.

We went forward and asked some of our members if things were changing for families.  We heard again and again, yes things have changed and families are having a far more difficult time.  There is more need and not enough resources to fill the need.  Due to all of this we launched ourselves into a year-long study of family homelessness and housing instability in Hamilton County, led by a group we pulled together, the Family Homelessness and Housing Stability Taskforce.  This group has included a Steering Committee, Prevention and Emergency Response Committee,  Exiting Family Homelessness and Housing Stability Committee and the Resources and Data Committee.  These four committees have included representatives from both public and private entities, shelter, housing, health care, education, faith, emergency services, neighborhood services, development, urban planning and more.  We have also worked with a variety of researchers.

Through this we have collected pages and pages of data.  Some alarming numbers:  in comparing the 2005/2006 school year to the 2009/2010 school year Project Connect, a service in Cincinnati Public Schools, identified approximately 42% more children as experiencing homelessness.  The number of unemployed workers in Hamilton County, between 2005 and 2010 increased by about 73%.  The waiting list at Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority for public housing in this time period has increased by about 126%.

The strength of our study however is in the stories of the families.  We held focus groups with families from all over Hamilton County- families that were experiencing homelessness, were on the edge of homelessness or had in the past experienced homelessness.  We spoke with families connected through faith groups, shelter, neighborhood services, housing, etc.  These families told us that having sustainable employment that pays enough to get by is very difficult, maintaining housing at existing rates is nearly impossible and there seems to be no linear way to avoid homelessness or move from homelessness.  They explained that they tried as hard as they could to avoid the experience of homelessness, but nothing ever seemed to be enough.  They explained how hard all of this is and how much toll it takes on their families an children.

We will release our study on Thursday, February 16th at 1:30pm at the Health Foundation (3805 Edwards Road, 5th Floor).  We will also release with the study, a list of recommendation:  things we can do as a community to prevent and end family homelessness.  This will take all of us, but we have to do it.  You are invited.

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