Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The large number of homeless children in Texas strains resources

Texas has so many homeless children that the amount is straining social and government services. The state is home to 337,000 homeless children or 5 percent of all kids in Texas.

The large number is due in part to the Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. Many of the children's families who were left homeless by the storms have yet to afford new homes. Or as in the case for Hurricane Katrina, move back out of the state, after many fled to Texas after the storm.

From this Associated Press article that we found in the Star Telegram, we learn of the demands made of a Fort Worth homeless shelter.

The All Church Home for Children’s emergency youth shelter has housed more than three times as many homeless children this year as in the same period last year, officials say. And the Fort Worth agency’s program for homeless single mothers and their children is not only full, but counselors are at a loss to find other programs for referrals.

"Right now, the perception is that everyone is full with a waiting list," said Barbara Clark-Galupi, vice president of marketing for the children’s home. "These are families who have never been homeless and all of a sudden have a crisis, and it is very hard right now to find a place for them."

The lack of options is not unique to Dallas-Fort Worth. A study by the National Center on Family Homelessness released Tuesday placed Texas last of all states in how homeless children fare.

The ranking considered four areas: the percentage of homeless children; their overall well-being; risk factors for homelessness, such as poverty and foreclosure rates; and how the state is addressing the problems.

Dr. Ellen Bassuk, president of Family Homelessness, said the child poverty level in Texas is 23 percent compared with 18 percent nationwide.

"You’re a big state; you’ve got a significant problem," said Bassuk, who also is an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "Texas needs to respond."

The report

The report defined as homeless any child age 18 or younger living with at least one parent or caregiver in such places as emergency shelters, motels, cars or campgrounds because of economic hardships or loss of their homes.

The definition did not include runaways or abandoned children.

The center estimates that 1.5 million children nationwide experienced homelessness at least once in 2005-06. The states that fared best were Connecticut, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Rhode Island and North Dakota. At the bottom were Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, New Mexico and Louisiana.

In that time, Texas had more than 337,000 homeless children — just over 5 percent of all kids in the state, according to the study. It noted, however, that that number may have been temporarily inflated by families who lost their homes during Hurricanes Rita and Katrina in 2005.

"We had a huge influx of families right after Katrina, and they didn’t leave," said Carol Klocek, executive director of the Presbyterian Night Shelter. "They are families that we still see."

Bassuk said that while Texas has a trust created to provide low-income housing — something a lot of states don’t have — it has no statewide plan to address homeless issues.

The study found that 1 of every 50 kids nationwide is homeless each year. The rate in Texas is probably a bit higher.

State officials and advocacy groups differ on the number of homeless children in Texas now — estimates range from 55,000 to 250,000 — but all agree that the numbers are increasing.

The Presbyterian Night Shelter’s Lowden-Schutts Building, which serves homeless woman and their children, helped twice as many families in 2008 as in 2007, Klocek said.

After a slight dip around the holidays, families are once again streaming in.

As the number of families seeking help increased, funding for some agencies has decreased. The YWCA of Fort Worth operates the only early childhood development program for homeless infants and pre-schoolers in Tarrant County and has seen its Department of Housing and Urban Development funding fall from $114,000 in 2008 to $92,000 in 2009.

"At one time, it was $140,000," said Judi Bishop, executive director. "It is just a never-ending cycle of trying to have enough money to provide the services that people need."

'Recipe for disaster’

Gerber said the Texas Interagency Council for the Homeless, which coordinates the state’s homeless resources and services, hopes to release a comprehensive plan next month to battle homelessness.

Ken Martin, executive director of the Texas Homeless Network, an information clearinghouse for more than 250 organizations that help the homeless, said there are signs that the problem is being taken seriously. Still, he called the percentage of Texans without health care insurance, the lack of affordable housing and high poverty rates a "recipe for disaster."

"At the other end of the scale are people who are way over their heads in houses they can’t afford," Martin said. "When they lose their jobs or have a healthcare crisis, they’re out on the street and they take their kids with them."

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