Richmond’s Rising Homeless Family Rates

by Maureen Linke

Rising foreclosure rates, unemployment and the economic downturn all have contributed to the increasing number of homeless families in Virginia and across the U.S.

A recent report by the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness states that 42 percent of individuals who experience homelessness are persons in families – the fastest grow sect of the homeless population.

According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, America is experiencing the highest rate of homeless children since the Great Depression. This comes as no surprise particularly with the recent report released by the U.S. Census Bureau – Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States. According to the report, the number of people living in poverty increased by 2.5 million and the real median household income fell 3.6 percent in 2008. The organization estimates one of every 50 children experiences homelessness in the U.S.

How Virginia Ranks

Nationwide, families with children comprise 34 percent of the homeless population and this number continues to grow. According to the State Report Card on Child Homelessness, Virginia alone has seen a 19 percent increase in homeless children and ranks 31st in the U.S. for the highest homeless rate (ranked 1-50, 1=best). The rates ranged from about 6 homeless people per 10,000 population in Kansas to more than 100 homeless people per 10,000 population in Washington, D.C.

Project HOPE-Virginia is an education program for homeless children and youth. The goal of this federally funded program is to ensure the success of homeless children in school through awareness and subgrants. State Coordinator Dr. Patricia Popp says with the rise in homeless children, it’s important to change the perception of homelessness.

“When we think of homeless, we think of a single person on the street with substance abuse,” Popp said. “Over half of the population is children who didn’t ask for these situations.”

According to Project HOPE, children who share housing with other persons, as a result of economic hardship, loss of housing, or a similar reason meet the definition of homeless. Also included are those who live in motels, camping grounds or emergency shelters.

The National Center on Family Homelessness ranks Virginia 20 out of the 50 states on vulnerability to high rates of child homelessness. This ranking system is based on specific criteria such as state policy and planning effort and the extent of child homelessness.

Education Risks for Homeless Children

As Part of the No Child Left Behind Act, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was authorized by Congress in 2001. Its purpose is to close the achievement gap among homeless children to ensure they receive the necessary support and resources. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, Congress was influenced by statistics that over one million children were likely to experience homelessness in a given year.

Climbing poverty rates, together with frequent mobility and loss of housing all contribute to educational challenges faced by homeless children. Studies have shown that housing instability and homelessness not only lower academic performance but increase chances of repeating a grade and severely reduce high school completion rates.

Popp said a variety of factors contribute to family homelessness. Increasing poverty, unemployment rates and substance abuse are among the most common. As a result of steep foreclosure rates, rental rates are also rising to meet the growing demand.

“Lack of affordable housing is the biggest reason why families become homeless,” said Popp. “Oftentimes families live in hotels or motels for an extended period of time to meet their need, but they get caught in the cycle of paying high rates and can never save money for a deposit to get out.”

Counting the Homeless

Homeward is the umbrella organization that works to coordinate homeless service providers to ensure needed services are being provided throughout the Richmond area. This organization also collects data to provide to public and private service providers, in addition to policy makers.

One of the greatest obstacles in helping the homeless is the conflicting systems used to count the homeless population. Groups like Homeward and Project Hope consider those who are living on the streets, doubled-up with other families, or living in motels as homeless. However, the state only counts those who have no shelter.

Kelly King Horne, the executive director of Homeward, said she has noticed the increase in Richmond as well.

“Due to the economy we’re experiencing right now, it’s no real surprise how much homelessness in families is increasing,” Horne said. “But it’s also important to keep in mind the outlook is somewhat grim and things will probably get worse before it gets better.”

Richmond Family Homless Shelters


~ by Maureen Linke on November 10, 2009.

One Response to “Richmond’s Rising Homeless Family Rates”

  1. Nice article, great looking blog, added it to my favorites.

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