Understanding the Issue
Homelessness is a complex issue, exacerbated by many factors. Criminal records, poor credit, substance abuse, a history of trauma, chronic physical or mental illness, and disabilities may all contribute to housing crises for individuals. There are actually many faces of homelessness: families with children who have experienced generational poverty or some other crisis and who are getting assistance from regional shelters; homeless veterans; people living in encampments and on the streets across the region; single adults with a history of incarceration who face high barriers to employment and housing as they work to return to stability. In addition to not having affordable housing, most people experiencing homelessness do not have supportive relationships with family and friends.
Homelessness touches so many other community issues: poverty, workforce development, healthcare, hunger, education, criminal justice, zoning and community development, veteran’s issues, and child welfare. Our challenge as a community is to leverage everything else that is happening in the community to prevent and end homelessness. We know it can be done and what it would take.
Defining the Need
Homelessness is a cycle, especially for children. Tonight, over 130 children will go to sleep in a homeless shelter in our community. Over the course of a year, approximately 400 children spend a month or more in a homeless shelter. These children are at increased risk of experiencing homelessness as adults. 9.4% of adults experiencing homelessness had children staying with them in 2011. Almost 25% of homeless families have been homeless more than once. An additional 600 children and youth received assistance in 2010 to prevent their families from becoming homeless.
Richmond has limited family shelter space. Last year, 682 households with 1726 total members requested emergency shelter. Sixty-one percent of these requests for emergency shelter were unable to be immediately filled. Almost all of these families were turned away because the family shelters were full. Without a pathway to exit shelters quickly, families linger in shelter or bounce from shelter to shelter before being able to access affordable housing. Emergency beds are not available for those in immediate need of assistance. Approximately 75% of families experiencing homelessness had their last housing in the region and 55% of families in shelters lived with family and friends before entering shelter.
Shelter is an expensive way to deal with housing instability. In this region, approximately $3.1 million in local, state, and federal funds are targeted to families experiencing homelessness each year. These families likely receive other mainstream resources. Estimated costs for a family to be served in a homeless shelter range from an average of $3,948 for a family of three for a month in an emergency shelter to $35,000 or more for a twelve-month stay in a transitional shelter. Many families move from one shelter to another because they have not yet addressed the financial and other issues preventing them from becoming stably housed in the community. Homeless adults in families are more likely to be employed than homeless single adults, but economic barriers still prolong homelessness for these families. In 2008, over 80% of the homeless families surveyed by Homeward had outstanding debt that limited their access to housing.
From regional data, we know that not all families experiencing homelessness face the same barriers to returning to housing stability. We do know from recent experience with programmatic innovations such as rapid re-housing that we can shorten the length of time children and their parents spend in homeless shelters and increase the likelihood of longer-term stability by providing home-based case management and follow up care to these families once they are housed. We have successfully reduced the number of children experiencing homelessness by 14% in the last three years and have developed innovative partnerships that have ended homelessness for 160 families with a total membership of 440 people (including over 250 children) since January 2009.
It is much cheaper to assist a family with short term housing assistance and case management ($5,000-$10,000 per year) than the long term costs of emergency room use, special education, mental health services, disability (SSI/SSDI) and incarceration. Many homeless family members have the capacity to become productive tax paying citizens. They just need assistance removing the barriers that led to homelessness.
Across Virginia, communities are accepting that homelessness is solvable. For the second year, the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness will undertake the 1,000 Homes for 1,000 Virginians statewide initiative. The goal is to house the 1,000 most vulnerable Virginians cycling between the streets, emergency shelters, hospital emergency rooms, jails and prisons. As part of the national 100,000 Homes Campaign (www.100khomes.org), the 1,000 Homes for 1,000 Virginians initiative aims to compile information about the most vulnerable people experiencing homelessness, in Richmond and in other communities across the state and then systematically house them before their homelessness causes them to die.
Homeward, the Greater Richmond region’s planning and coordinating agency for homeless services, released initial findings from its 14th Winter Point-in-Time Count. The twice-yearly census provides a snapshot of the number of people experiencing homelessness on a single day. Preliminary results reveal 1,040 people in the region experiencing homelessness on January 26, 2012. This number reflects a 5.6% increase in the number of people overall experiencing homelessness from January 2011 to January 2012. More than half of the total increase can be attributed to individuals residing in substance abuse and recovery programs. In addition, after a spike in family homelessness in 2011, the number of homeless children is returning to more stable numbers.
For more information about homelessness in the greater Richmond region, please visit any organization listed on the GiveRichmond Learn Tab or go directly to:
www.homewardva.org/researchdata -- Homeward
www.virginiasupportivehousing.org/programs -- Virginia Supportive Housing
www.1khomesrva.org - A Thousand Homes for a Thousand Virginians
www.caritasshelter.org -- CARITAS
www.endhomelessness.org -- National Alliance to End Homelessness
www.vceh.org -- Coalition to End Homelessness
http://www.virginiahousingpolicy.com/documents.asp - Virginia Housing Policy