There are a number of factors that contribute to family homelessness, including the challenge of raising children alone, fractured social supports, and the changing demographics of the family. More significant to the dilemma of family homelessness are:
- Lack of affordable housing –According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the United States is facing increasing rents, stagnating wages, and an extreme shortage of affordable housing. For every 100 extremely low-income renters, there are just 31 affordable units.
- Extreme poverty – In 2009, 17% of all American families with two parents and 34% of all single-parent families lived below the poverty line. Many families do not earn adequate wages, with one-fifth of all US jobs not paying enough to keep a family of four out of poverty. Families need an income twice as high as the Federal Poverty Level, on average, to meet their most basic needs.
- Decreasing government supports – In 1996 the federal welfare reform law replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program with a block grant program called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). However, these grants, combined with the Food Supplement Program, formally known as Food Stamps, require applicants to earn below poverty level in almost every state and while the number of poor people has increased in recent years, the number of people receiving TANF has decreased.
- Domestic violence – Because of their unique and often urgent circumstances, those coming from domestic violence situations are more likely to become homeless or have a problem finding housing. Families escaping domestic violence may have poor credit, rental, and/or employment histories. Additionally, some are unable to collect and/or enforce child support and alimony payments, because they must avoid their abuser for safety.
As the problem of family homelessness accelerates, the services to accommodate the increasing numbers are lagging behind. Homelessness disrupts virtually every aspect of family life, damaging the physical and emotional health of family members, interfering with children’s education and development, and frequently resulting in the separation of family members, with a much higher rate of separation for families that have experienced homelessness than others that have not.