A story from Lisa Lewis, Vice President of Housing and Stabilization Services for Catholic Family Center, and Katrina, one of her clients.
Stay Home! Two words everyone is saying these days. But, where do you go if you don’t have a home? This is the voice of so many who are struggling today. A growing number of people are finding themselves in a position they never imagined: homeless.
Our nation is in the midst of a housing crisis. The lack of affordable housing, unseen level of unemployment since the Great Depression in 1933, and the rise in depression and substance abuse are all contributing factors to the increase in the number of people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
A study conducted at Columbia University projects an increase in homelessness by 40–45 percent, that’s nearly an additional 250,000 more people expected to become homeless over the next couple of months. The impact of lifting national and state moratoriums on evictions, anticipated to take place at the end of the year, raises deep concerns for individuals and families at risk of homelessness.
“In Monroe County there is always a need for emergency housing, especially as we move towards winter,” said Lisa Lewis, Vice President of Housing & Stabilization Services at Catholic Family Center (CFC), the Rochester based agency that maintains three shelters designated for men, women, single parents and families intact.
As Covid-19 cases rise, so does homelessness
“This year has been an anomaly with the Covid-19 virus and the eviction protection and additional financial resources such as stimulus money and unemployment resources,” added Lewis. “However, the at-risk population still exists. We are experiencing a 50% reduction in the use of emergency shelter housing. As the weather changes and some of the temporary protections set to expire, I anticipate that we will see an uptick in the number of people in need of beds, food and shelter.”
It Happened. Just. Like. That.
Katrina, a single mom with two boys, began sliding into homelessness when her job wasn’t paying the bills. Her eldest son was just an infant at the time when she first came to CFC in need of emergency shelter for her family.
Earlier this year, Katrina was forced to move her family out of substandard housing where they had been living in the City of Rochester. The building had become neglected by the landlord and neighborhood was shaken by an influx of poverty and violence.
Katrina’s job in housekeeping wasn’t paying enough to move her family to a better neighborhood. She and her two boys were forced to abandon their home and became homeless again for the fourth time — she thought she’d never be in that position again. Katrina’s eldest son is now 17 years old.
“It can be just one disruption, either a loss of a job, a medical situation or an unanticipated bill, that causes individuals and families to lose their housing,” Lewis said. “You can’t sustain a home without a job. In many cases, it’s nearly impossible to hold a job without a home.”
The cycle of homelessness
Poverty keeps people in the cycle of homelessness:
1. High costs of living make it difficult for individuals and families to stay housed. A job that doesn’t offer a living wage (minimum wage and above) to cover the expenses associated with affordable housing, makes it challenging to move into a quality residence, in a good safe neighborhood.
2. The inability to maintain a job for whatever reason(s). Without a home, it is very difficult to stay employed.
3. Bunking up with a primary tenant, such as another family member or friend as a permanent housing option, leads to overcrowding conditions, substance use, domestic disputes, family breakups and strained relationships. In 2018, the leading cause of homelessness was due to evictions by the primary tenant, representing 57% of the total temporary housing assistance placements made that year.
Ending the cycle of poverty is the solution to ending homelessness. It begins by stabilizing people in need of emergency shelter with temporary hospitality and housing.
The Way Home
Identifying a resource that supports families and individuals who are homeless and at-risk of homelessness in finding a stable housing option is key. Once a referral from a human services agency or a self-initiated contact is established, an initial intake assessment is conducted to evaluate the degree of poverty and what service are needed. Interventive resources and temporary housing arrangements are then secured usually lasting from one to ten days, maxing out at 30 days.
The end goal is to help individuals and families, whether it is the first-time facing homelessness or the chronically homeless, to take steps to get off the streets, move into permanent, affordable housing, and maintain independence through employment and meal assistance.
When ongoing resource support services are a part of the solution to end the cycle of homelessness, a place or program to come back to for assistance when needed, the most vulnerable have a better chance in sustaining their housing and not returning to the streets.
Empowering the Vulnerable
A lifetime of not being secure with permanent housing — a place to always call home — can have a profound impact on each member of the family. Many people in need permanent supportive housing are battling mental health issues and/or addictions. Building community connections, reuniting with family, and a plan to return to medical, mental, and behavioral health are also critical components to empowering the homeless to be self-sustaining.
To end homelessness, a community-wide approach is needed by agencies such as CFC to effectively allocate resources, programs and housing services that address the needs of those experiencing homelessness.
Monroe County has created the Homeless Shelter Task Force as a collaborative response to addressing the needs of persons in shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic. As more folks are expected to seek shelter this winter, the local group is committed to keeping folks from being left out in the cold. Area hotels within the county are being allocated by local aid and state officials for any overflow, if shelters reach full capacity or have to shut down under the COVID-19 guidelines.