April 21, 2010

Losing more than just a home

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I hate moving. It is a long, laborious process that takes at least a couple of months to plan and a couple of months to recuperate. You have to find cardboard boxes, ask your friend with a truck to haul your stuff, make sure that your furniture will fit, and pay first, last, and a deposit.

Now imagine adding homelessness into the mix.

For the thousands of families experiencing homelessness for the first time, this process is much more painful. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), family homelessness has risen 56 percent over the last year. When a family becomes homeless, where do they keep their belongings? Can they afford a storage unit? How many pictures and teddy bears are lost in the process? Are the happy memories lost as well?

With family homelessness on the rise, social welfare agencies are overextended, nonprofits are cash-strapped, and considering the economy, even minimum-wage jobs are few and far between. The system itself doesn’t lend a hand. The homeless mom or dad can’t apply for a job without an address and can’t pass a credit check if they just lost their home to the mortgage crisis. Homeless families become stuck.

This is where organizations, such as First Place School, come in. On a recent Friday, I spent the day learning about statistics and strategies to end family homelessness and visiting First Place. The school, a cheery, brick building on Capitol Hill, is a private school for homeless children or children at risk of becoming homelessness. It is stocked full of everything a homeless family would need, including new clothes, supportive staff, and counseling, health, and housing services.

Full-service organizations, like First Place, are much needed. Parents often don’t have the time or the means to take care of their children’s education and health while also searching for a job and a home. Moving alone takes every ounce of energy and these families move monthly or even daily from a family or friend’s home to emergency shelters to transitional housing to semi-permanent housing and so on.

After all is said and done, what’s left? Maybe a box or two of a family’s most valuable possessions, a baby picture or a blanket, perhaps? When families are on the move constantly, what kind of toll does that really take on the parents’ hopes and the children’s future?

All I can say is that when I have to move out of my school apartment in June, I will thank my lucky stars that I have somewhere to go, and pray for those who don't.

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