By Barbara Poppe, Executive Director of USICH
When I stepped into this position, I had a very Ohio-centric view of responses to homelessness. But over the course of my tenure, I’ve visited communities where I’ve met with providers as well as families who are or have experienced homelessness. Everywhere I go, 100% of homeless services providers are compassionate, caring, and hardworking. All want to do the best thing for families and children. Everyone is committed to the best results. What has been surprising, though, is how the unique and individual needs of families sometimes seem to get lost in how programs are run. The structure of the program or facility and the program expectations or rules can all become barriers to serving the range of families that experience homelessness within a community.
Further complicating this can be the lack of true collaboration. Instead programs are loosely networked with families falling through the cracks of the so called “system of care.” While the good intentions are evident, the consequences for children, youth and parents treated can be quite negative.
Recently USICH released Family Connection: Building Systems to End Family Homelessness, a resource aimed at expanding an effective partnership with communities across the country to prevent and end homelessness for families. I’d like to offer a perspective that compares how some real-life examples of community approaches to family homelessness impact families (see current) with a potential future community approach under the Family Connection recommendations.
The benefits of community wide, family centric approach are that the unique assets and needs of each family are considered. Community resources are optimized. More families can be served. Program and community outcomes improve. And families, children, and youth are stabilized in housing more quickly – this improves health, academic achievement, family relationships, and economic opportunities.
Stories like these inspire our work at the Council to find a better way to help communities like yours respond to the unique assets and needs of each family who experiences a housing crisis. We hope that the key actions outlined in Family Connection will be taken to heart and implemented in smart ways across the country. Success stories like these are achievable. And so is an end to family homelessness.