Dramatic Increase in Family Homelessness

Commentary by Brian Davis

          In most cities, the number of families experiencing homelessness increases during the summer.  The summer is now over, and we can look back on family homelessness in 2012 in Cleveland.  As of September 12, there were 590 families who attempted to enter the shelters in Cleveland, which was an increase over the number of families who entered the shelter in 2011.  According to records from the Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services, the number of families seeking shelter increased dramatically and there are still a few months left in 2012. This is a huge increase that should trouble everyone.  The County has had to put people into motels, and has developed a central intake system to get people into empty shelter beds faster.  These numbers do not include the families who stay on people’s couches or in the basement of a family member who only are counted homeless by the school districts.  In Cleveland, the school district has counted well over 2,000 families just in the City of Cleveland.  This is bad news for the recovery from the financial crisis and housing bubble in Cleveland, and it is surprising that the County and City are not raising the red flag with the black square in the center.  Why aren’t they talking to the media or asking the state for help to meet the demand?

           The economy has still not recovered in Cleveland, and stimulus dollars are gone.  Over the last two and a half years, Cleveland spent nearly $14 million to put people in housing, get them out of shelters quickly, or prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place.  The stimulus had implementation issues, but it was an overall success.  Creating a prevention and rapid rehousing program from scratch is always going to have problems, but the bottom line is that it prevented hundreds of people from becoming homeless.  The stimulus worked to prevent a catastrophe on the streets which could have seen vulnerable populations, including families, sleeping on the streets in big numbers.  We did not see the number of people dying on the streets in Cleveland increase during this downtown, and we never had to resort to turning people away from shelter.  The stimulus kept the shelters from bursting at the seams over the last year, and prevented a ton of heartaches for many families.  This elected leadership of Cleveland should be made aware of this incredible increase in family homelessness and then should point to the success of the stimulus as an effective response.

          Cleveland and other cities need additional resources this winter to meet the demand.  The shelters need additional stimulus and federal housing support to get people into housing.  The simple fact is that 64,000 people requested a housing voucher last year which demonstrates the out of control need locally.  Only 10,000 names were picked and those people will be on the list for five to seven years.  This means that the waiting list for a housing voucher will be closed for the next six years.  We find that seniors can find housing with only a six month wait, but every other population is waiting three, five, or most likely seven years.  There is so much frustration that a low wage job will not allow the family enough income to afford a market rate apartment, but the wait for some kind of government subsidy is years long.

          This is going to be a tough year with a sizable family population and a steady number of single adults looking for housing.  It might not have been the best time to start central intake for families while we are running out of housing assistance funding.  This could complicate and frustrate a family seeking shelter because now there is this new screening mechanism in place.  All the shelters are trying to make this work with more people showing up at the door.  They are trying to keep people from sleeping outside, and they are working to reduce the frustration of waiting for stable housing.  For the young child learning to read, this constant moving is difficult and has a negative impact on school and their health.  We need to make this the highest priority to help these families find stability or we will just be creating problems of poverty, high health costs, incarceration, and no prospects for a job for the future.


Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle October 2012 NEOCH