The Hidden Homeless
For more information, or to get involved in this community-wide effort: www.transforminglives.org/hidden-homeless
I recently had an opportunity to help plan the Region 6 Forum on Family Homelessness in Dallas and speak on a panel about family homelessness. Hosted by the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the forum was designed to address the growing reality in our community and in our country.
On the panel with me was a courageous young mother who told her story of waiting to get into a homeless shelter after her infant son was discharged from a neonatal intensive care unit. They were first told that they did not “look homeless” and were turned away. After living in a tent behind a hotel for a time, she returned and was put on a waiting list. Every Friday she called to see if a spot had opened for her and her newborn. After three long, frightening months of living in a tent, being helped by other homeless strangers, they were admitted to the shelter. And their lives began to change.
With braces, nervous giggles and tears, and bright blue hair, this young woman told her story. She is proud of how far she has come and knows their future holds more struggle and difficulty, but she describes herself as determined. “I’m going to make it,” she said — over and over again throughout the day.
I wonder if I could be that strong? That fearless? Or was she hiding her true feelings because she is so used to being judged? I don’t know.
What I do know is that there are many more young mothers just like her, and they need our help.
In March of 2015, the Center for Transforming Lives gathered a group of nearly 40 like-minded agencies to focus specifically on the interests of children. The specific task was to understand the realities of childhood homelessness in our community and what should be done about it. This collaboration resulted in our report, The Hidden Homeless: Early Childhood Homelessness in Tarrant County, and the creation of the Coalition for Homeless Children. Recommendations were developed to effect change to community systems, so they work better for children and more effectively take their needs into account.
· An estimated 14,981 children experience homelessness each year in Tarrant County, meaning that they and their families live in other people’s homes, motels or shelters or sleep in cars. They often stay hidden in an effort to stay safe, preventing them from receiving the services that they need.
· All forms of homelessness for children cause trauma, negatively impacting their developing brains, as well as harming physical and emotional health. The effects of trauma experienced in these early years can last a lifetime.
· The current homeless service system is not designed to handle these unseen families.
· Lack of affordable housing and child care, along with limited education and employment opportunities, means that this is a growing problem.
We’ve created the Coalition for Homeless Children to effect these changes by:
· Championing change in the homeless service system along with Tarrant County Homeless Coalition’s Task Force on Family Homelessness;
· Engaging faith communities by bringing Bridge of Hope programming to Tarrant County;
· Establishing a pilot project serving 30 families to demonstrate how integrating safe housing, affordable child care, employment and transportation is more effective at eliminating homelessness for families with young children; and
· Working with policy partners at the local, state and federal level to better meet the needs of children and families experiencing homelessness.
At the Center for Transforming Lives, this collaborative effort has taken us out of our comfort zone and pushed the boundaries of our transformative work. We realize — sometimes you have to go big, so kids can go home. Will you help us help them?
Carol Klocek is CEO of the Center for Transforming Lives, an organization that lifts homeless and impoverished women and children from poverty to possibility through homeless recovery, early childhood development and financial stability.