If we want to save children from the trauma of homelessness, we must increase the resources available to families in need of stable housing.
The story is all too common these days. Families suffer a financial shock and get caught in a cycle of homelessness, shelter or motel stays, further hastening economic deterioration. They cannot escape without real help. This revolving door is damaging to the children -- and often taxpayers wind up on the hook for expensive institutional, hospital or mental health services for everyone in the family.
Each year more than 150,000 families become homeless and seek emergency shelter for themselves and their children. These transitional settings are Band-Aids that do not cure the problems.
The solution lifting many families out of their downward spiral is permanent, affordable housing, often linked to support services that address challenges exacerbating instability. The affordable housing is used as a stabilizing platform from which family members can access support services such as medical and behavioral care, substance use treatment and educational and job training.
This is called supportive housing and it is proven as a cost-effective model to end homelessness by delivering the care thousands of individuals and families need to get themselves on a road to self-sufficiency.
For many supportive housing residents, securing a permanent place to live becomes a reality when they receive a Housing Choice Voucher, a federal program that helps financially-strapped families -- as well as seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities -- rent modest units of their choosing on the private market. Housing Choice Vouchers are essential to the success of supportive housing and we know they work to reverse the cycle that traps struggling families in despair.
The first rigorous, large-scale review to test the effectiveness of programs to reduce homelessness among families with children was recently conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Known as the Family Options Study, it concluded that Housing Choice Vouchers are the most effective tool to help families with children find and keep stable housing.
It also found that children in homeless families that receive Housing Choice Vouchers are less likely to miss school and experience lower rates of hunger and domestic violence, especially compared to homeless families forced into transitional arrangements.
These results add to the body of research showing the effectiveness of Housing Choice Vouchers and the imprudence of lodging families in transitional housing.
Despite their overwhelming benefits, Housing Choice Vouchers are hard to come by. Waiting lists are long and only 1 in 4 families who are eligible for the program are able to participate.
Making matters worse, federal budget cuts known as sequestration have reduced the number of families across the country that are able to secure Housing Choice Vouchers and the stability they offer.
As Congress works on the 2016 federal budget, we will be urging our leaders in Washington to fully fund the Housing Choice Voucher program and supportive housing by reallocating funds away from ineffective transitional housing projects.
Our point is simple: In order to save children from homelessness, we must restore funds to programs and initiatives we know are lifting families out of homelessness and forgo wasting money on the ones that are not working.