Number of Families Entering Shelter on the Rise
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It is September, and most children are excited to be going back to school with new clothes and their backpacks stuffed with fresh school supplies. After school, they have nice rooms and everything they need to do their homework and study quietly. But, some children cannot share in the excitement—they have lost everything that they treasure, and to make matters worse, they are living in a homeless shelter, a motel or sleeping in Crossroads’ Family Room downtown because the Family Shelter is filled to overflowing.
During the past 30 days, the number of homeless families seeking assistance at Crossroads has risen dramatically. Cicely Dove, the Family Center Director, says “We have 17 families now, but rooms for only 15. One family of 5 is staying in the living room and another family is using the literacy program computer and study room. Yesterday 3 new families arrived and we had to find other shelters for them. Two more families had to go to a motel outside Providence.”
Crossroads’ intake information shows that most of the families were staying with other family members or friends before coming to Crossroads. They are part of a growing “doubled up” population that is especially vulnerable to becoming homeless. The landlord may force the extra tenants to leave or threaten to evict the lease holder. An event like Tropical Storm Irene and loss of power can cause tensions to rise and make the overcrowded situations intolerable.
Children who are homeless struggle to keep up in school. At the Family Center, case advocates work closely with school personnel to find resources to ensure that children have transportation so they can continue to attend the same schools they were enrolled in before becoming homeless. “It is very hard for children to do their homework when the Center is crowded and noisy,” Cicely says. “We have a homework area and computers, but right now a family is in that room. We are trying to keep our Family Literacy Program going in spite of the overcrowding so that the kids can get help with homework and enjoy our reading and story times.” Most children are dealing with the trauma of being homeless as well, which makes it even more difficult for them to focus on their schoolwork. It is no wonder that children experiencing homelessness are often a couple of grades behind their peers.
Nationally, the number of doubled-up families is growing. Many parents are desperately looking for jobs, and others are trying to apply for public benefits because their unemployment insurance has ended. Unfortunately, public funding for safety net services is shrinking everywhere, and Rhode Island is no exception. Unless the job market improves, these families may be struggling for a long time.
The Family Center provides three meals a day and after-school snacks, which means that the food bill is going up every day. “Meal times can be hectic, but the families all pitch in with cooking, serving and cleaning up. We make sure families get healthy meals and that nobody goes hungry,” says Cicely.
Families at the Center work closely with case advocates in order to transition quickly to housing stability. Crossroads’ Rapid Re-Housing program has been very successful in helping families find and sustain decent, safe and affordable housing. Parents also have access to Crossroads’ Education and Employment Services, which offer adult education, GED, employment readiness and job training programs to help adults succeed in the workforce.
We do everything possible to help families stay positive during their stays at the shelter, but we know that homelessness is really difficult for all of them, especially the children. Thanks to generous donors and foundations that focus on the well-being of children, we can provide our young guests with essentials, such as back packs and school supplies and enrich their lives with family literacy activities, field trips and holiday celebrations. Still, life in a shelter is no substitute for a real home, and our goal is to help families move to housing stability as quickly as possible.