The holidays are a particularly harried time for Midlands homelessness and hunger service providers, several of them shared at a panel Friday.
But the problems persist year-round.
The themes that emerged from the family homelessness panel? Family hunger and homelessness are not diminishing. And service providers must cooperate to meet a wide range of interconnected needs.
Participating were leaders from area service providers Harvest Hope Food Bank, St. Lawrence Place, the Family Shelter and Family Promise of the Midlands.
Here are some of the questions the panelists addressed:
QUESTION: What issues face “families living on the edge” who struggle with poverty but are not yet homeless?
Denise Holland, CEO of Harvest Hope: “If we can’t get them fed, their problems multiply, certainly, in a very exponential sort of way.”
A four-year study by Harvest Hope found that while more than 80 percent of its clients in 20 counties had an income, three-fourths of them fell well below the national poverty line, Holland said. More than half of Harvest Hope clients had to choose between paying for food and paying for housing, while about three-fourths had to weigh the costs of food against utilities, medical expenses or transportation.
“We do have to get people employed. We do have to get their medical needs taken care of,” Holland said. “We’re trying to take the need for food off the table, and then go find resources ... that will get you employed, take care of your housing needs, take care of your medical needs, your transportation. Employment, though, is key.”
QUESTION: What are some proven successful interventions for homeless families?
Lila Anna Sauls, CEO of St. Lawrence Place: “It’s not our job to help them find a full-time job. It’s our job to help them increase their employability, help them get paid more than eight bucks an hour and hopefully get them some benefits or at least line them up proper benefits they need for their families so that they can leave St. Lawrence Place and exist somewhere (on their own).”
St. Lawrence Place has a 95 percent success rate in transitioning families who were homeless into permanent housing, Sauls said.
Along with housing, St. Lawrence Place offers comprehensive life-skills programs that include teaching adults how to craft a resume, how to build “soft skills,” such as answering a phone and dressing appropriately as well as training them in “hard skills,” such as how to use technology. Staff members conduct three-month follow-ups with families who have exited the program after living in St. Lawrence housing for up to two years.
“Ideally, they’re going to be able to find a better paying job” during their time at St. Lawrence Place, Sauls said.
QUESTION: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about chronically homeless families?
Angela Culbreath, program director for the Family Shelter: “The biggest misconception or myth is that they don’t take responsibility for themselves. They don’t care. They want to live off of everybody else and live off of the social service system. And we need to make them get up and get it together.”
Other common misconceptions or ill-conceived assumptions about homeless families, Culbreath said, include:
• Thinking they don’t exist, assuming that “the majority of homeless people are adults that have made bad choices, and they’re just suffering the consequences.”
• Thinking the parents are neglectful of their children.
• Asking of single mothers, “Where’s the dad?”
• Thinking homeless people are uneducated.
• Thinking they’re someone else’s problem.