Spring Symposium Focuses on Family Homelessness

Posted: April 20, 2013 by thehomelesspage in Activism, Culture, Events, Government, Health, Original Stories, People, Policy, Politics, Uncategorized
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By Lauren HodgesIMG_1149

Jean-Michel Giraud, executive director of Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place, recently wrote about the struggles of homeless families in DC on his blog. With the city only mandated by law to provide shelter when the temperature or wind chill factor is 32 degrees or below, many children are forced to sleep outside in frigid weather,

“We all know how unsafe weather conditions still are between 32 and, say, 45 degrees. Nobody would choose to spend the night outside during the winter, let alone ask our children to do that, but this is precisely what DC has been asking families to do.”

The city’s emergency shelter, DC General, stopping admitting families in April 2012 to reduce expenses during the “warmer months.” Even in February, when temperatures required the shelter to take people in, it was reported that most of the rooms didn’t have working heat and over 600 children slept in unhealthy conditions throughout this winter.

The news spread through a concerned community and is still a hot topic as those “warmer months” slowly return to DC. Interest was apparent in the packed house at Friendship Place’s Spring symposium on family homelessness. Over 200 attendees gathered at National Presbyterian Church on Nebraska Avenue to hear a group of panelists and moderator Ray Suarez, host of Public Radio International’s monthly program “America Abroad.”


“The solution to this crisis is twofold;” Fred Swan, family services administrator for the Department of Human Services, told the audience. “First, committing more resources for affordable housing and second, increasing the capacity of low-income residents to obtain and maintain employment that is sufficient to enable them to afford housing with no assistance.”

Ja’Sent Brown from the State Superintendent of Education’s office, addressed the struggles of homeless kids in regularly attending and performing in school. She referred to children living in temporary housing as “highly mobile,” because homelessness often forces families to sleep in a different place every night.

“Studies show that it can take a highly mobile student four to six months to recover academically after changing schools and highly mobile students generally have lower test scores than their peers in more stable housing,” said Brown.

The National Center on Families Homelessness also reports that children experiencing homelessness are sick four times more often than children in stable housing. Obesity and malnutrition are high among homeless children, leading to poorer performance in school compared to their peers. In her interview, Brown stressed the need to ensure that homeless children “receive an education equal to those in permanent housing, and encourage school stability.”

Proposed to tackle this issue was a detailed federal plan called “Opening Doors.” Panelist Laura Zeilinger, deputy director of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, claimed the plan could end family homelessness by 2020, if implemented correctly.

“This is a goal we can achieve through meaningful collaboration between and among federal agencies and local communities,” she told the crowd. “We need investment in evidence-based solutions, and ensuring greater access to affordable housing, education, and sustainable employment for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.”

To learn more about Opening Doors, Friendship Place, or any other programs from the symposium, visit the website for the Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place.

  1. […] GM: It’s actually the number one thing facing all homeless in DC–affordable housing. It’s really a crisis here. This is an expensive city and there is increasingly less space for low-income individuals and families. It’s very competitive and the spaces aren’t always inhabitable. It’s one of the reasons we hosted the Family Homelessness Symposium last month. (Read The Homeless Page’s coverage of the event here).  […]

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