16 February 2009

Homelessness: A Family Affair

The Washington Post is reporting today on the changing face of homelessness in America- a rise in the number of two-parent families seeking housing. The current foreclosure dilemma, sluggish economy and rising unemployment rates are resulting in a marked increase in homeless families throughout the nation.

Experts who study homelessness and poverty said the increase in homeless families illustrates how severely the economic crisis is affecting middle- and working-class households and how the worsening economy is pushing more people toward poverty,” says The Washington Post.

Local authorities in Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Minneapolis, New York, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle and Washington are reporting rising numbers of families seeking housing help, with the primary reasons reported for homelessness being job losses and foreclosures (Koch, 2008).

What does this mean for our community? Memphis employment has contracted more sharply than the national average throughout 2008. Employment growth in the Memphis MSA was negative in all good-producing and in most service-providing sectors (July 2007-July 2008) (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, 2008). According to a January 2009 article published in the Commercial Appeal, the Memphis foreclosure rate ranks 18th worst in the United States. Our most conservative estimates of projected recession-induced homelessness for Memphis and Shelby County suggest that our homeless population will increase by 1,090 people; however, estimates based on population statistics from the Memphis/Shelby County Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness suggest that our homeless population could increase by over 4,000+ during the economic downturn (CUCP, 2009).

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development offers five promising homelessness prevention strategies:
1. Provide housing subsidies to low-income families.
2. Link supportive services (i.e. mental health counseling) and permanent housing.
3. Provide effective mediation in housing courts.
4. Provide cash assistance for rent or mortgage deficits.
5. Ensure that families quickly leave transitional shelters and stay housed afterwards.

The full HUD report can be found at http://www.huduser.org/Publications/pdf/Strategies_for_preventing_Homelessness.pdf


Federal Reserve Bank of Saint Louis. (2008). Current economic conditions in the eighth federal
reserve district: Memphis zone. Retrieved February 12, 2009 from

Fontenay, B. (2009, January 16). Memphis foreclosure rate ranks 18th worst in the nation.
The Commercial Appeal.
Retrieved February 16, 2009 from

Jenkins, C.L. (2009, February 16). Homelessness: A family portrait. The Washington Post, pp.

Koch, W. (2008, October 21). Homeless numbers 'alarming'. USA Today. Retrieved
February 16, 2009 from

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Policy Development and
Research. (2005). Strategies for preventing homelessness. Washington, DC: The Urban
Institute, Walter R. McDonald & Associates, Inc.

The 2002 report from the Memphis and Shelby County Mayors' Task Force on Homelessness can be accessed at http://www.ich.gov/slocal/plans/memphis.pdf

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