Families experiencing homelessness have come to represent the majority of the total homeless population in the District of Columbia. Between 2013 and 2014, the number of families seeking shelter in our nation’s capital has more than doubled. Whether generational poverty or an acute crisis is at the root of a family’s homelessness, there is trauma associated with any loss of housing. Furthermore, children bear the brunt of homelessness.
How do families become homeless?
Families with children find themselves homeless in the District of Columbia for a variety of reasons. Rising rent costs, landlords selling property, family crises like job loss, parental incarceration, domestic violence, medical problems, mental health problems, fire, and often a combination of many factors. Often times, there is trauma associated with a family’s journey to homelessness. What may start out with a family crisis becomes a knock on the door by the U.S. Marshals and all of their earthly possessions being put out on the street during an eviction.
Where does a family go?
Most families move in temporarily with family or friends or stay in a hotel. This can cause tremendous strain on a family’s financial resources and on the social supports of whomever they are living doubled-up with. Thousands of children and their families find themselves in a desperate enough situation to apply for emergency shelter each year in DC. The Virginia Williams Family Resource Center is the entry-point to the family shelter system in DC. Because there are so few shelter beds available, families must go through great lengths to prove they are homeless. Since DC only guarantees shelter to families during hypothermia season, most get turned away. This leaves some families to literally sleep outside in parks, apartment stairwells, laundromats, or on public transit.
Homelessness has no season. To ensure that families have affordable housing opportunities and a safety net for when crises occur, we desperately need advocates to ensure that services that prevent homelessness and help families return to self-sufficiency remain a priority.
Check out the following resources to learn more:
- Americas Youngest Outcasts 2010
- Child Trends: The Effects of Homelessness on Children
- Homelessness in Metropolitan Washington
- Legal Clinic: DC Homelessness and Poverty
- The Characteristics and Needs of Families Experiencing Homelessness
- The Cost of Homelessness
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Fact – Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments
Year round, there are only 330 emergency shelter units for families. In August 2012, there were 681 families on the wait list for emergency shelter in DC. For most applicants, the wait for emergency family shelter is at least 6 months.