There are many misconceptions about what causes homelessness. While the root causes are many and varied, it is surprisingly easy for people to become homeless if they have no savings or family to lean on for help. Here is a real-life example based on a working, two-parent household that ended up living in shelter at COTS in late 2008.
ON THE EDGE, SCRAPING BY IN VERMONT: ONE FAMILY’S STORY OF HOMELESSNESS
Steve and Alice Jones have two kids, ages 7 and 9, and have lived in their apartment in Burlington for seven years. Steve works 40 hours a week at an auto parts store and Alice works as a teacher’s aide at a local school.
Their monthly budget (wages are based on $9 and $11/hrly wages)
Alice hurts her back helping a disabled student and has to stop working. As an hourly employee, she does not qualify for disability benefits. She cannot work for four months.
She and Steve do the best they can, but they fall behind in their rent payments. They are unable to catch up and now they have credit card debt because they used a cash advance to help pay for their monthly expenses.
Three months after Alice stops working, their landlord begins the eviction process. The Jones family receives notification from the sheriff that they must vacate their apartment. They arrive that same day at a COTS family shelter.
STEVE AND ALICE’S STORY IS NOT UNIQUE
On any given payday, thousands of working families are struggling to balance increasing expenses against flat or falling wages. One unforeseen expense — a medical emergency, a drop in wages or a major car repair — can result in a desperate financial situation, which can lead to a family’s becoming homeless.
*The average fair market rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in Chittenden County is $1,015 — 44% higher than the national average. Wages required to afford that rent are $19.48 an hour or $40,518 a year.
VERMONT HAS THE HIGHEST RATE OF HOMELESSNESS IN NEW ENGLAND; AT LEAST 66% OF VERMONT HOUSEHOLDS DO NOT EARN ENOUGH TO AFFORD THE AVERAGE FAIR MARKET RENT.
FAMILIES AND HOMELESSNESS
In most respects, families experiencing homelessness are similar to other poor families. They have incomes below 50 percent of the poverty level. Most are headed by single women with limited educations.
They have similar rates of domestic violence and mental illness. Children who experience homelessness have similar rates of anxiety, depression, behavioral problems and below-average school performance as their peers who are housed.
Fortunately, homelessness among families is typically not a long-term experience. The vast majority of families are in shelter a relatively brief period of time, and do not have a subsequent homeless episode. There are, however, a small number of families who, despite receiving a housing subsidy, will remain in shelter for an extended period of time or have multiple homeless episodes.
For more on topics related to homeless families, visit www.endhomelessness.org/ and explore the resources on our Links page.
CHILDREN AND HOMELESSNESS
The increase in homeless families in recent years has led to a dramatic rise in the number of children who are living in shelters, campgrounds and motels.
Homelessness is devastating to children and their families. It strains virtually every aspect of family life, damaging the physical and emotional health of family members, interfering with children’s education and development, and frequently resulting in the separation of family members.
The number of homeless families served by COTS increased 400% between 1995 and 2000—from 73 families to 300 families – and has continued to increase each year.
For more on topics related to homeless children, visit www.endhomelessness.org/ and explore the resources on our Links page.
HOMELESSNESS AMONG U.S. VETERANS
According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, one in four homeless people in the U.S. is a veteran. Indeed, figures from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), there are more homeless Vietnam veterans in the U.S. than the number of service personnel killed in that war (58,202). On any given night, 154,000 veterans are homeless, and up to twice as many experience homelessness at some point in any given year.
In Vermont, an estimated 125 veterans are homeless on any given night. COTS currently serves an average of 40 homeless veterans a year. Statistics indicate a growing demand for COTS shelter and services among veterans over the next five years.
Studies demonstrate that veterans are particularly vulnerable to becoming chronically homeless when support services and stable housing are lacking in a community.
In 2008, COTS received funding from the VA and other sources to develop a housing facility for formerly homeless veterans – the first facility of its kind in Chittenden County, and only the third in all of Vermont. Construction is under way in Winooski, where a handicapped-accessible building will provide 20 units of transitional housing and 8 units of permanent housing for veterans.