Seal of the United States Interagency Coucil on Homelessness
Wikimedia Commons

Family homelessness in the District has nearly doubled since 2008, and the trend is expected to take a heavy and lasting  toll on children, according to speakers at an April 18 forum sponsored by the Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place.

More than 200 community members gathered to discuss the crisis and possible solutions with local and national experts, as well as with homeless parents. The forum  was moderated by Ray Suarez of PBS NewsHour.

A scarcity of jobs, coupled with a shortage of low-cost apartments, has helped exacerbate the problem, according to DC Family Services Administrator Fred Swan.

“The increase in family homelessness in the District is a result of an affordable housing crisis,” said Swan. “The solution to the crisis is twofold: committing more resources to affordable housing and increasing the capacity of low-income resident to obtain and maintain employment.”

Laura Zeilinger, deputy director for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness spoke of the federal plan to end family homelessness by 2020. She said the goal could be achieved through partnerships between federal and local agencies.

JaSent Brown, from the office of the deputy director of the District’s superintendent of education said “highly mobile students” have lower test scores than children with stable housing. Homeless children are also more likely to be sick, hungry and have behavioral problems, studies have shown.

But the stories told by panelists  Kenric Simpson and Mignon White  gave those attending a real sense of the overwhelming personal tragedy of family homelessness.

Simpson spoke of losing contact with his children during a period of homelessness. He said he did not want them to live on the streets so he turned them over to child and family services in Annapolis to keep them safe. Since then, he has managed to find a place to live but is still trying to get his children back. He said there is a deep need to help homeless fathers.

White cried as she recounted the experiences she and her daughter had, begging for places to sleep. She also recalled with joy the day they got a place to live again, her daughter running around and turning on the lights, repeating “This is my home!”