Families With Kids Go Homeless as U.S. Rents Exceed Pay

The former DC General Hospital now serves as a homeless shelter for many families. Homeless families struggle in the District with a lack of both affordable housing and shelter space. Placement is especially difficult when the family is large, more than 2-3 children.     Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

(SOURCE) When Montoria Freeland separated from her husband of 15 years in 2008, she left a four-bedroom house and economic security. Before long, her pay and hours as a pharmacy technician were cut and she found herself and her son facing homelessness.

Freeland lived with family for a time, she said, and four months ago moved into transitional housing funded by the city government in Washington, D.C., while searching for work that pays more than her $8.25-an-hour retail job. Having lost her oldest son in a 2000 homicide, Freeland said she insists on looking for housing in a safe neighborhood for her surviving one, now 17. She found that’s available only at an increasingly steep price.

“You’re trying to pay car insurance, rent, electric, cable and if you’re using public transit, putting money on your card, groceries,” said Freeland, who was accepted into a program that provides temporary housing, financial planning and job-placement counseling. “It’s hard to survive out here.”

For households with children, rising housing costs, elevated unemployment and stagnant earnings are increasingly placing rent beyond reach. The housing slump made matters worse as former homeowners turned into renters, increasing competition for available apartments.

“There is just a mismatch between what people earn and what it takes to pay for housing,” said Sheila Crowley, chief executive officer of the Washington-based National Low Income Housing Coalition. “Unemployment continues to be persistently high, and wage stagnation at the low end seems to go out as far as the eye can see.”

Homeless Families

The number of homeless people who are part of a family climbed 1.4 percent in January 2012 from the prior year, even as total homeless numbers declined, based on a National Alliance to End Homelessness analysis of the most recent nationwide statistics available. The number of children without a home increased by an estimated 2 percent, according to NAEH, a Washington-based non-profit focused on policy and research on the needs of homeless people.

More recent local data from places such as Seattle and Portland, Oregon, suggest that in some markets where rent is rising, homelessness has followed suit. What’s more, federal budget cuts to government housing programs threaten to trim aid.

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