Voters Will Decide Future with 2016 Housing Levy

By Lena Beck, School of Theology and Ministry Social Justice Intern

Let’s play a word association game. Ready? When I say “Seattle,” you list the first things you think of. Ok. Seattle. Space Needle. Rain. Housing crisis.

It’s not as though the need is new—this city has long been lacking in sufficient access to affordable housing. Residents have voted to fund more low-cost units since 1981, and even though those levies exceeded their initial goals, Seattle remains in the deep end of an affordable housing crisis. With another opportunity to make change coming up on the August 2nd primary ballot, many voters are hoping that this levy could be the one.

Like Portland, San Francisco, and other rapidly expanding cities, average rent prices in Seattle are much higher than can be met by people with modest incomes. Over 45,000 households in the city have to use more than half their wages to cover their housing costs. According to the Seattle city government, the average one bedroom apartment in town costs $1,544 per month, and two people would need to be earning $15/hour full time to sustain that housing cost burden. With Seattle’s minimum wage currently still less than that, there’s a noticeable gap that makes it pretty obvious: Seattle is up to its neck in a crisis, and desperately in need of housing that is more affordable.

seattle housing levy

Image credit: Seattle Office of Housing

Enter Prop 1, the 2016 Seattle Housing Levy. It is meant to both replace and build upon the levy that is currently on its way out, and its basic stats are as follows: It is a tax increase that will raise $290 million for the city to direct towards affordable housing over the course of seven years, costing the average homeowner about $10.17/month. This money will be invested into three main sectors. First, it will create and preserve 2,150 affordable apartment units within Seattle. Secondly, it will reinvest in 350 apartments that already exist. Last but not least, it will support the operations of 510 affordable units.

This levy comes as public attention to housing and homelessness issues in our region has increased dramatically over the past year or two. In September 2014, Seattle City Council and the Mayor’s Office convened a diverse 28-member stakeholder group to develop a strategy around housing affordability and availability, resulting in the creation of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) in July 2015—a list of more than sixty recommendations for how the city can legislatively address the affordable housing crisis.  A few months later, Mayor Murray and County Exective Dow Constantine jointly declared a state of emergency on homelessness in Seattle and King County.  Throughout, we have rarely seen a day when housing and/or homelessness have not made the news in our city.

This newest housing levy has made it onto the ballot during a time when advocates and laypeople are actively looking for solutions.

The Seattle Times wrote a compelling editorial this week discussing the levy, highlighting both the city’s intense need for a proposition like this one, as well as encouraging voters to keep demanding similar changes with less overhead costs. The message is clear—the voter say-so in this case is going to have a huge impact on what our city looks like in a decade. While primary elections often slip by unnoticed, this is an issue that as it grows, affects all Seattleites. Whether you check yes or no on your ballot, be sure you have a say in how our city handles its affordable housing emergency.

For more information on the 2016 Housing Levy, visit http://www.seattle.gov/housing/levy

To stay updated on HALA’s work, see http://www.seattle.gov/hala/track


Lena Beck headsotLena Beck is interning with the School of Theology and Ministry this summer. A rising senior at Seattle University, Lena will be graduating in 2017 with a BA in Humanities for Leadership, as well as a specialization in Journalism and English.  She originally became acquainted with the School of Theology and Ministry’s homelessness initiative while working as a writer for the university’s weekly newspaper, the Spectator.  After interviewing Program Manager Lisa in the spring of 2015, she felt pulled by the work and eventually asked to come aboard in an internship capacity.

Originally from Portland, Oregon, Lena feels at home in the Pacific Northwest and is currently living in Capitol Hill, Seattle.  She loves hiking, reading and getting to know the Seattle community.

 

Advocacy Data and Reports Faith and Family Homelessness Homelessness

Addressing the Affordability Crisis: Homeownership and the Housing Continuum

Our latest guest blogger, Kathleen Hosfeld, is a current student  at the School of Theology and Ministry (pursuing a Master of Arts in Transforming Spirituality) and the Executive Director of Seattle-based Homestead Community Land Trust. Like all community land trusts, Homestead is in the business of making communities more stable, sustainable, accessible and affordable.  Kathleen sees their work – “creating and preserving affordable homeownership opportunities for modest-income homebuyers in the Greater Seattle/Puget Sound area” – as an essential piece of a multidimensional and holistic response to the complex problems of homelessness and housing affordability/insecurity. It’s a way to both empower and stabilize individuals and families, and strengthen communities. Learn more about the what, how and why of their work at www.homesteadclt.org.


Kathleen Hosfeld Headshot v2 (square)

By Kathleen Hosfeld, Executive Director, Homestead Community Land Trust

The facts are stark. As of February 2016, the Seattle Times reported that the median price of a home in Seattle had risen to almost $644,000 – a 24% increase over the previous year. To afford that home a person has to have an income in excess of $100,000 per year and a down payment of more than $100,000. That price is out of reach for 60% of the potential buyers in our community, where median income is closer to $75,000.

We live in a community where only the affluent have the opportunity to own their own home. As the Executive Director of a community land trust, I see teachers, non-profit employees, medical technicians, first responders and social workers denied this part of the American Dream. Modest-income people who try to own a home often buy more home than they can afford. Those who relocate for affordability often have longer commutes – transportation time and expense can bring their cost of living back to unaffordable levels, increase their environmental impact and take time away from their families.

Runaway real estate costs have created an affordability crisis that affects everyone. But for more than 100 years restrictive covenants, discriminatory federal policies, bank redlining and predatory lending practices have also disproportionately targeted minorities, creating more obstacles to homeownership.

Racial Wealth Gap (Pew 2013)
As a result, in addition to a growing wealth gap, there is an even wider racial wealth gap, with median-income white families having 13 times the wealth of median-income black families.  Homestead-CLT-logoCommunity land trusts like Homestead arose out of the Civil Rights era and the work of colleagues of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  They’ve shown that when communities work together, we can change these statistics and change lives for the better.

As we grapple with our crises of homelessness and housing affordability in the greater Seattle area, we must at the same time take a holistic view of the roles played by different forms of housing in lifting people’s financial circumstances. In Washington State we talk about the “housing continuum” – a progression of services that includes emergency housing, transitional and permanent supportive housing and subsidized rental. Each form of housing plays a critical role in creating a just community, where the most vulnerable are protected. And a holistic, systems view of housing recognizes that increasing access to affordable homeownership is a strategy that helps the whole continuum. Programs that support people in safely building equity reduce their risk of future housing instability.

Main image - We make it possible

Photo credit: HomesteadCLT.org

Alyssa’s story provides a great example. Six years ago, Alyssa was a single mother struggling with an unsympathetic landlord who refused to address mold issues that affected the health of her children. Alyssa had significant financial and credit issues. By working with Homestead staff over time, she was able to clean up her financial issues and in 2015 she bought a single-family home in West Seattle, close to bus lines, schools and grocery stores.

Without this opportunity, families like Alyssa’s could easily end up on the street. The changes that Alyssa made in her life to prepare for homeownership, combined with an affordable mortgage and a consistent housing payment give her and her family opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach.

As I write this, the Washington State legislature is considering increasing the funding available to organizations like Homestead that make homeownership a reality for modest income people. People in Seattle are now being invited to discuss the Mayor’s proposal for renewal of our housing levy.  As you exercise your civic voice, consider the important role that access to homeownership plays in creating inclusive and equitable communities.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

  1. LEARN how you and your faith community can partner with Homestead Community Land Trust to make homeownership possible for modest income families. Contact Homestead CLT at 206-323-1227 Ext 113 and speak to Kathleen Hosfeld for more information.
  2. WATCH 99 Homes, a 2015 film that explores the brutality of the Great Recession housing crisis.
  3. DISCUSS: Homeownership – its role in an inclusive, equitable community. Free panel discussion on Thursday, March 24, 6-8:00pm, Learn more and register here→
  4. ADVOCATE! Write letters to your elected officials, send Letters to the Editor at your local paper and talk to others about the need for affordable housing options and the structural causes of poverty and homelessness.

Sign up to get Action Alerts on social service and housing policy and budget issues from the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance at wliha.org; Firesteel – YWCA at firesteelwa.org; and the Housing Development Consortium (Seattle and King County) at housingconsortium.org.

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Forging New Partnerships in Family Homelessness and Health

By Hannah Hunthausen, Program Coordinator, Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry

Car camping (Real Change Long Road Home story)

At least 776 people live in their vehicles in Seattle alone. Photo credit: Daniel Bassett, Real Change

Imagine living and sleeping day after day in your car in 90 degree heat, shuttling your daughter to and from work and trying to get yourself to dialysis three times per week. This is the situation Lana and her 23-year-old daughter Rachel found themselves in this summer.[1] Mother and daughter were evicted from their two-bedroom apartment in Renton last year when Lana’s kidneys failed and she could no longer work to keep up on rent. Like many families, they opted to hold on to their vehicle and the little bit of security and freedom it still offers them;  they can keep their stuff relatively safe, and get to appointments and work more easily than if they were living at a shelter. Lana and Rachel are just one of several families and individuals profiled in Real Change’s ongoing series on vehicle residents in Seattle (see the 7/22/15 article “Nowhere to Go” and the 7/29/15 article “The Long Road Home”). [2]

All this to state the obvious: those without a stable place to call home – whether they’re living in their vehicle, in a shelter, on the street, or couchsurfing from place to place – are vulnerable and often have health conditions (physical and/or mental) that are either brought on or exacerbated by their situation. Some may become homeless because of a health crisis, like Lana.

In the post below, Anna Markee, Senior Manager at Building Changes, discusses the intersections of homelessness and health and offers ideas and hope for new kinds of collaboration and ways to help.


Forging New Partnerships in Family Homelessness and Health
by Anna Markee, Senior Manager at Building Changes

It’s not always easy for organizations to reach across silos to one another, but that’s exactly what a group of local leaders working on homelessness and health care are doing.  Their goal: ensure the region’s most vulnerable families benefit from big changes and new opportunities in health care.

Building Changes - Mother and baby (with binky)

Many leaders were meeting one another for the first time at the May 27th event,  Leading Across Systems: Exploring Opportunities to Connect Family Homelessness and Health, hosted by Building Changes and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The group discussed ways they could partner across systems to make sure that every family has a home and access to the care they need.  The theme of the day: health begins where you live and play.

While it seems obvious that being homeless isn’t good for your health, research reveals more striking impacts than you might imagine. One study conducted in five US cities discovered that homelessness during pregnancy poses unique dangers: prenatal homelessness increased the risk of a baby being born prematurely and with low birth weight. Low birth weight puts babies on difficult life course, with increased risk of infant mortality, respiratory disorders, and neurodevelopmental disabilities.

Homeless parents often suffer from high rates of illness as well. Sometimes an unmanaged illness can lead to homelessness, through loss of a job or crushing medical debt (see local couple Nick and Charlotte’s story, recorded as part of the StoryCorps: Finding Our Way Project).  Symptoms can get worse if a family becomes homeless. Data from Building Changes’ evaluation of permanent supportive housing shows that half of the parents have a chronic medical condition and over 60% have a behavioral health diagnosis. These families report challenges accessing the care they need. While most are insured, they often feel stigmatized in health care settings due to their homelessness or behavioral health needs.

2015_HNFProgram_OutcomesforFamilies (Building Changes)

The connections between homelessness and health are clear, and new solutions are beginning to come into focus – especially in Washington State, which has been a national leader in this complex work.  One example is a new program launching in Snohomish County focused on pregnant or parenting homeless young adults. Cocoon House, a leader in serving homeless young people, will provide dedicated support to quickly identify homeless or at-risk youth who become pregnant, ensure they have access to housing, and work with local health care providers so that their babies have the opportunity for a healthy start in life.

While difficult in a fast paced clinic environment, health care professionals can help by remaining patient and non-judgmental. Similarly, service providers often struggle to keep the lights on and keep up with demand; finding the time to develop partnerships is a challenge. Nevertheless, these agencies are finding that often, by working together, they can achieve their goals and better serve families.

Building Changes - Doctor checking patient's ear

Regardless of your role, here are some steps that anyone can take to help homeless families lead a healthy life:

  1. Many people still don’t know that they are eligible for free or low-cost health insurance. Make sure people you know or serve are enrolled in health insurance through Washington HealthPlanfinder.
  2. If you are involved with a meal program, consider ways to add more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains to the meals and reduce high calorie, high sodium, high-fat foods and sugary beverages. Public Health-Seattle & King County has tips
  3. Love to garden? Consider organizing a Giving Garden on unused land such as church property to grow fruits and vegetables and donate them to a local food bank.
  4. Volunteer at the upcoming Seattle/King County Clinic, a four-day volunteer-driven clinic providing a full range of free dental, vision and medical care to underserved and vulnerable populations in the region on October 22-25 at Key Arena. Active or retired health professionals are needed as well as non-clinical general volunteers.
  5. Share this article with people in your faith community.

Building Changes Logo v2Building Changes is a nonprofit that transforms the ways communities work together to end family and youth homelessness. We act as a “compassionate engineer,” designing and implementing a better system to make homelessness rare, brief and one time. Our goal: reduce youth and family homelessness by 50 percent by 2020. 

We believe that homelessness can be significantly reduced when nonprofits, government, and philanthropy work seamlessly together, in a high-performing system that tailors solutions to the needs of each youth and family. (Source: Seattle Foundation website)

[1] Names have been changed to protect individuals’ privacy.

[2] “Bangarang Village,”  the vehicle resident community Lana and Rachel joined earlier in the summer, , included a pregnant single soon-to-be-mom suffering from arthritis, a couple with a baby on the way, a mentally and physically disabled Vietnam veteran, and a mentally ill deaf man, among others. The group had banded together for security and community in a city that has very limited affordable housing and limited shelter as well as a slew of regulations and scant options for those trying to get by living in their vehicles. (The group was recently forced to disband and vacate the area they had occupied along N Northlake Way – some have found housing, others have gone to shelter or have found other safe places to park with the help and collaboration of community activists, the police, generous faith communities, and Road to Housing case managers from the City. Follow Homelessness in Seattle on Facebook for updates.)

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“If you want to go far, go together”: Snohomish County Affordable Housing Conference

blind-men-and-the-elephant-parable

The ancient story of the blind men and the elephant still has many lessons for us today.

Do you know the story of the blind men and the elephant? It’s an old parable from India that speaks to the nature of truth and the limits of personal perspectives. It goes something like this: six blind men want to learn what an elephant is like, having never seen one. So, they approach an elephant and each touches a part of the animal, but only that one part (i.e. one feels the trunk, another a tusk, another a leg, another the tail, etc.). When they report back, they find that they are in complete disagreement as to what an elephant is. One says it’s like a snake, another like a spear, another like a pillar, and so on. The moral: each of our perspectives is valid (and warrants respect), but no one has a complete grasp of or monopoly on the truth. We can learn from one another, and only together, by integrating our perspectives, can we come closer to the truth.

A little over a week ago, Lisa and I attended Homelessness & Hope: A One-day Affordable Housing Conference in Everett, and Captain John DeRousse of the Everett Police Department led the morning panel discussion with this parable. And what a fitting parable it was! In the world of homeless services, housing and advocacy, there are many such truths – we need more shelter beds, we need more affordable housing, we need to house homeless families more quickly, we need better mental health services, et cetera. And while each of these needs is very real, each is also just one part of the larger picture – none represents the complete solution in and of itself. Rather, we need to work simultaneously – and most importantly, cooperatively – from all of these different angles in order to fulfill our common goal of ending homelessness. As one speaker at the conference said, “complex struggles call for comprehensive responses.”

Some of these various responses were represented in the breakout sessions – from workshops on Housing First models like 1811 Eastlake, Homelessness and the Business Community, Landlord Engagement, and Local Ordinances that Work, to the success ofTiny House communities like Quixote Village, HMIS Data Dashboards & Tableau, a 2015 State Legistlative Session Review, and finally, a workshop on Engaging the Faith Community (with our very own Lisa Gustaveson, and Rev. Chris Boyer, Pastor of Good Shepherd Baptist Church). It was a rich and fruitful day of sharing lessons learned, best practices, and stories.

Lisa-presenting-in-SnoCo-(6-15-affordable-housing-conference)

Program Manager Lisa Gustaveson presenting at Homelessness and Hope: A One-Day Affordable Housing Conference in Everett on 6/5/15.

Some other takeaways from the conference include the following:

  • John Hull, Director of the Everett Gospel Mission’s Men’s Shelter and Day Center, encouraged us to reframe the way we talk about what constitutes “success” for our neighbors moving out of homelessness: “self-sufficiency” doesn’t exist, he says – all of us depend on others, after all, no matter our situation. Instead of self-sufficiency, the ultimate goal for people experiencing homelessness, and for all of us, should be to flourish and to thrive.
  • Middle class solutions don’t work for people in poverty. It’s important to be creative and to empower people who have or are experiencing poverty and homelessness to develop and contribute to solutions.
  • The majority of people experiencing homelessness in Snohomish County are people who have grown up around us – they’re our people, our neighbors, and we need to treat them that way. (Only 9% have come from outside of the county.)
  • Stories are incredibly powerful, motivating tools that keep us moving forward and remind us of why we do the work we do. Three amazingly courageous panelists shared their stories of abuse, addiction, homelessness, and heartbreak to a room full of service providers, policymakers and advocates. One of the panelists, Gina, a domestic violence victim who lost her children due to a meth addiction, is now working for the Snohomish YWCA, helping families in the child welfare system. Another panelist described his struggle with addiction and his brothers’ decision to lie about his involvement in a drug deal in order to save him because, unlike them, he didn’t have any felonies and “still had a good shot at life.” The last panelist shared her story of emigrating as a young mother from Africa to save her daughter from female genital mutilation and to save her family from retribution; she experienced horrible exploitation and psychological abuse once here, until she found help through Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County, her current employer. We all felt privileged to have been allowed to share in these stories and bear witness to the tellers’ courage and resilience – there wasn’t a dry eye in the house!
Argelia-Grassfield-and-Gina-Enochs

Argelia Grassfield (left) interviewed Gina Enochs (right) for the StoryCorps Project, Finding Our Way: Puget Sound Stories About Family Homelessness

* An important note: One of the panelists, Gina Enochs, recorded her story as part of the StoryCorps project, “Finding Our Way: Puget Sound Stories About Family Homelessness.” Gina’s story, and many others like hers are can be found at http://firesteelwa.org/storycorps/. Learn more about these stories and how you can use them here.

And finally, I’d like to share the wisdom of this African proverb, which Mary Anne Dillon (Sr. Regional Director for Snohomish County YWCA) shared with the group as a send-off:

If you want to go fast,

Go alone

If you want to go far,

Go together.


Things you can do:

  1. Listen to and share StoryCorps stories recorded in Snohomish County:
  1. Visit the Project on Family Homelessness’s webpage for more action items: StoryCorps and 10 Things You Can Do to End Family Homelessness

 

 

 

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Sentenced-to-One-Year-in-School---adwriter,-Flickr,-Creative-Commons

“America’s Youngest Outcasts”: Report Finds 1 in 30 children in America are Homeless

The American Institutes for Research and The National Center on Family Homelessness came out with a report last week revealing that a staggering 2.5 million children living in the United States are homeless. That’s 1 of every 30 children in America – an 8% increase nationally from 2012 to 2013.

The report ranks all fifty states (and the District of Columbia) according to their performance in four domains related to child homelessness: extent of child homelessness, risk for child homelessness, child well-being, and state policy and planning. As you can see in the infographic below, Washington ranks fairly high in child well-being and policy and planning, but middle-of-pack when it comes to risk factors for homlessness, and low in extent of child homelessness due to our very high number of homeless children.

Washington-Child-Homelessness-2014-infographic

 

So, what can we do as people of faith? The report points to the need for safe, affordable housing and for wrap-around services and support for parents and children in order for families to get back on their feet and establish housing stability. This is where the faith community comes in. With a huge shortage of affordable housing, we need landlords willing to take a chance on tenants with higher barriers. We need faith communities and congregations to take the leap and walk with families who are working to transition out of homelessness.

Today, families make up 37% of the homeless population and millions of children are living without stability and without a place to call home. Read the full report to dig deeper into the causes and state of child and family homelessness.

To become part of the solution in King County (if you are or if you know a landlord), find out more about the new One Home Campaign, a local effort to develop new partnerships between nonprofits and landlords to expand housing options for formerly homeless individuals and families. Visit the One Home site at onehomekc.org.

Image: “Sentenced to One Year in School,” courtesy of adwriter, under a Creative Commons license on Flickr. Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic.

Data and Reports Faith and Family Homelessness Homelessness Data Landlord Liaison Youth

Public Education System: An Intro to Firesteel’s Homeless Student Blog Series

Introduction by Lisa Gustaveson, Project Manager for the Faith & Family Homelessness Project at Seattle University

553830_10200650804746093_599565699_nThe beginning of this summer, my family, friends and I committed to volunteering once a week at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission and Mary’s Place Emergency Family Shelter. Our posse of volunteers take turns bringing the evening meal, and stay for an hour or so afterwards to help with the children while the moms set up their sleeping areas.

Each Monday, I find myself looking forward to our time at the shelter. The time spent with the families has changed me in subtle and startling ways, and the love and respect I have for the families and the dedicated staff who care for them has grown. Hanging out with the kids is fun for all of the volunteers; on the outside, the children seem a lot like housed kids – energetic, silly and sometimes naughty.  They thank us when we bring them strawberries and watermelon, and run to the library after dinner when they can read a little and play a lot with the teen volunteers.

Looking deeper into the eyes of the children, I can see how living in turmoil, chaos and crisis affects them. I know that every night they sleep on the floor, every meal they miss and the hours in school that are wasted because they can’t focus, will likely add up to a lifetime of struggles.

This seven part series by our partners at Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness for Firesteel gives us a glimpse into how difficult it is for children living in poverty and homelessness to succeed in school. The data and stories the author, Perry Firth, shares helps us to understand the special needs of homeless students, and offers ways WE can be the catalyst for change. Please take a few moments out of your day to read this first piece, and subscribe to Firesteel for the next six posts. You won’t be disappointed.


Children know when they are falling behind academically. As they continue to struggle, they can develop both low self esteem and a dislike of school. That is why it is so essential that children who need extra help get it.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> Image from pixabay.com.

Children know when they are falling behind academically. As they continue to struggle, they can develop both low self esteem and a dislike of school. That is why it is so essential that children who need extra help get it. Image from pixabay.com.

As the new school year starts, teachers face many challenges. So do children who are dealing with homelessness and poverty. And this couldn’t be truer than for impoverished children who are also in need of special education services. With parents focusing on day-to-day survival and too busy to consistently advocate for their needs, children who are homeless may fail to receive the services they need to succeed in school.

The result is that children already harmed by their living circumstances can fall even further behind. Therefore, adults who work with children in poverty and homelessness need to understand how this environment influences academic skill and emotional development, and how it relates to special education needs.

So, we present this seven-part series on how homelessness and poverty affect the development of children, and how this can show up in the education system. Thanks to Perry Firth from Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness for contributing this important series.


Written by Perry Firth, project coordinator, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness; Seattle U School Psychology graduate student

Hungry and tired, the boy squirms in his seat. Surrounded by classmates studiously working, he stares out the window, one leg anxiously thumping the side of his desk. In second grade, he has already experienced the types of stressors that dull the colors and geographies of childhood into shades and valleys of gray.

His teacher, a young enthusiastic woman standing at the front of the class, observes him. His book is opened to a happy story, but neglected. There are dark circles under his eyes, and he startles easily.

She has noticed that he seems both alienated from his peers and clearly desperate to fit in. Unfortunately, the basic social skills required to gain social acceptance don’t come easily to him.

Regulating his emotions is also a struggle. Prone to outbursts, he doesn’t communicate his needs in grade-appropriate ways.

He accumulates school absences and tardies the way other students accumulate new clothes.

Having noticed that he is also struggling in reading, she is beginning to wonder if he may have some sort of disability.

Truth is, the boy is homeless.

This account is a fictional, yet realistic, description of how a child’s homelessness may manifest in the classroom. Indeed, these struggles and outcomes related to homelessness could typify any of the more than one million homeless school children living in America today, or the 30,000 school children who are homeless in Washington state.

This scene also captures the confusion that teachers may encounter as they attempt to pinpoint the reasons that a child is struggling in school without understanding their housing situation. The teacher in this story — like many real ones — is confronted with a difficult challenge: How to differentiate whether a child is struggling because he is homeless, or because he has a disability (or both).

Classroom indicators of homelessness infographic

This problem of differentiation brings up many questions:

  • Does the child struggle to read because she’s missed so many school days, or because she has a learning difference? How has homelessness and poverty impacted her cognitive and emotional development in general?
  • How does this influence her success in the school environment?

These are all good questions. Yet, as we often encounter when seeking to tease apart environmental and genetic influences, the answers are layered, nuanced and ecological.

Homelessness in Classroom-Eco Systems Model graphic
Human beings develop within systems. From this ecological perspective, child development is influenced by everything from family functioning and genetics, to community norms and broad societal beliefs. Image from wikipedia.org.

What to expect in this series

This seven-part blog series seeks to answer the last question: the impact of homelessness on academic success. We’ll explore how homelessness and poverty affect the cognitive, emotional and behavioral development of children. Given that success in school is so essential to a child’s future, poverty’s influence on academic success will also be a major theme.

We’ll pay explicit attention to what school professionals and child advocates need to know, including:

  • The harmful factors that accompany homelessness and poverty, like frequent school moves and low quality housing.
  • How homelessness and poverty can create toxic chronic stress, and how this stress impacts the brain and can impair a child’s ability to develop normally.
  • How the stress of homelessness influences academic achievement and learning.
  • The unique issues school professionals face as they evaluate and try to provide services to children who are homeless.

Intersection between special education and homelessness

We’ll also delve into to the special education category “Emotional Disturbance.” Children receiving services under this category struggle with many issues, like emotional-behavioral disorders and high drop-out rates. In turn, this hinders their ability to find secure employment as adults.

Unfortunately, children who are homeless and/or living in poverty are more likely to need special education services – but don’t always get them. Therefore, we’ll highlight how trauma, scarcity and stress can affect special-education placement, and contribute to the cycle of poverty.

Useful strategies and connecting to policy

In the last two posts in the series, we will provide practical strategies that school professionals can use to ensure that homeless children get the special education services they need. Finally, we’ll give an overview of important policy and legislation that can influence how schools provide these services.

Photo: Teacher with book in classroom
Understanding how poverty and homelessness affects academic success isn’t enough; strategies which enable school professionals to meet the needs of their most vulnerable learners are also essential. Image from pixabay.com

Coming up next, on Sept. 3:  “Hungry, Scared, Tired and Sick: An Overview of How Homelessness Hurts Children.” This post will provide a foundation in some of the problems that can accompany childhood homelessness, from increased mobility and school changes, to poor-quality housing and poor physical health.

What you can do

  1. Share these posts with your friends and colleagues to increase their impact.
  2. Read related Firesteel posts, likeNo One Would Have Known I Was Homeless,” in which a young woman gives a first-hand account of what it was like to be homeless in high school.
  3. Download the brochure on helping homeless students, “Understanding Homeless Students’ Educational Rights,” newly updated for 2014-2015. This is a fantastic resource for students, parents, teachers and social workers, published by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness.
  4. If you’re a McKinney-Vento Homeless Liaison, teacher or school staff member in Washington state, attend the upcoming training sessions hosted by Washington state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Oct. 8 in Spokane or Oct. 9 in Seatac (registration required).
Advocacy Data and Reports Ending Homelessness Faith and Family Homelessness Firesteel Homeless Families Homelessness Data Project on Family Homelessness Seattle U Social Justice

With A Series Of Small Bans, Cities Turn Homelessness Into A Crime

  • “Camping” in Public: 34% of cities impose city-wide bans on camping in public
  • Sit/Lie Laws: 53% of cities prohibit sitting or lying down in particular public places
  • Vehicular Residency: 81 cities have laws prohibiting sleeping in one’s vehicle, a startling 119% increase from 2011
  • Food Sharing: 9% of cities prohibit sharing food with homeless people
  • Begging in Public: 76% of cities prohibit begging in particular public places.
  • Loitering, Loafing and Vagrancy: 33% of cities make it illegal to loiter in public
    throughout an entire city.
  • One example of bad criminalization policy: Orlando, Florida. 34% of homeless people in the Orlando area are without shelter beds, yet the city restricts or prohibits camping, sleeping, begging, and food sharing.

The NLCHP concludes that these laws are both costly to taxpayers and ineffective in reducing homelessness, in addition to being grossly inhumane and unconstitutional in many cases. Read the full report to learn more.

susan-st.-amour-pic-2b70a23c58eab5b6e4157cd8636ddbf79c221b75-s40-c85[1]

Susan St. Amour panhandles on a median in Portland, Maine. The city tried to ban loitering on medians last year, but a judge found the law unconstitutional. Photo credit: Caroline Losneck for NPR

Laws that criminalize homelessness are on the rise across the country, according to a new report by an advocacy group. The laws prohibit everything from sleeping in public to loitering and begging. Advocates for the homeless say the laws are making the problem worse.

Susan St. Amour is among those who could be affected by the new restrictions. Twice a week, she stands on a median strip at an intersection in downtown Portland, Maine, asking passersby for cash. She says she needs the money to get by.

Data and Reports Faith and Family Homelessness Homelessness Data Social Justice
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