For many Americans, one unexpected setback could be the difference between a stable home and homelessness – the disappearance of a promised job, an increase in rent, a divorce or broken relationship. For Katie, it was complications during the birth of her fifth child that resulted in homelessness. Damage from her cesarean section delivery required extensive surgeries and a nine-week stay in the hospital. Without a financial cushion or support system to lean on, she lost her home and everything she owned. “Two [parents], homeless with five kids,” said Katie. “I had a hole in my stomach bigger than my head ― just gaping. And it had to heal from the inside out.”
That healing process would take eight months and required regular medical attention. During that time, finding a safe place for her four kids and newborn baby was a daily struggle. “We had to do GoFundMe’s just to get enough money for motel rooms on the days I needed to do dressing changes, so I’d have a place for the nurse to come meet us,” said Katie. “Some nights we slept in bus stops, or we’d walk around with the kids all night because there was nowhere safe to go.”
The reality is, finding services that support an entire family is incredibly difficult. Often referred to as the “hidden homeless,” 30% of the homeless population are families with children. “When most people think of a ‘homeless person’, the image that comes to mind is of a single adult, weathered and weary, who became homeless because of a mental health crisis or drug addiction,” said Emma Hughes, Director of Outreach & Recruitment at Family Promise of Spokane. “What people do not think of is a family with children as being homeless.”
Studies show homelessness can have a tremendous impact on children, leading to higher levels of emotional and behavioral problems, health problems, lower academic performance, and increased separation from families. Family Promise, a , steps in to this overlooked gap in services. Through prevention, emergency housing and ongoing supportive services, their holistic approach helps keep newly housed families from returning to homelessness. “The vast majority of homeless adults report experiencing homelessness as children,” said Hughes. “If Family Promise can intervene to end homelessness for families today, the impact will be seen for generations to come.”
It can be difficult to understand the range of barriers families experiencing homelessness face. “People say, ‘I don’t understand it, there’s jobs!’” reflects Katie. “But how are you going to get your clothes clean to even get that job? How do you make sure you have the food to eat to make it through? How do you get there? Interviews aren’t easy [when] you don’t feel like you deserve anything.”
Lack of affordable housing is another consistent challenge. “In Spokane County, a family trying to afford a 2-bedroom apartment at fair market rent needs to make $23 per hour,” says Hughes. “The majority of jobs that pay at this rate are Monday through Friday from 8am-5pm and require degrees or qualifications, plus reliable transportation and reliable daycare.” This is why Family Promise’s stabilization services are personalized to meet each family’s needs. They could include workforce development, health and wellness, emergency childcare, food assistance, clothing, and community connection to create a network for security and stability.
After two months of struggling on the street, Katie’s family found their way to Family Promise. The resources they were offered made it possible for them to work towards their goals and stable housing. Today, Katie is employed by Family Promise as their donor relations coordinator, helping to build community support for the programs that changed her life. “It’s so incredibly powerful to be able to use all of the bad that happened to me to help other people. It makes it all worth it. Every day that I suffered; every day that I was in pain. To know that I can make a difference to other families and that they’re never going to have to feel quite so alone.”