Homeless in Helena
A "point in time" survey of homelessness in the greater Helena area is done each year, usually in the last week of January. In the 2012 survey, there were 25 homeless families with minor children (104 individuals: 58 adults, 46 children). That's an overall increase of 14% over 2011, and specifically a 31% increase in the number of homeless children. Looking further back in time, there were over twice as many homeless families in the 2012 survey than in the surveys of 2008 and 2009. Some of the families in that survey slept outside in that January cold. The rest of the homeless were were either "doubled up" (staying temporarily with a friend or relative) or had temporary shelter in a community facility.
The shelter options for homeless families with children are very limited in Helena. Beyond Family Promise those options often require splitting up families at some point. It is likely that some of the children who slept outside the night before the January survey did so because their parent(s) did not want the family split up. Family Promise works to keep the families integrated into the community and – most importantly – keeps families together. Nationwide, one-fifth of all children who are homeless are separated from their immediate family at some point.
Contrary to common perception, many of the homeless are employed at least part-time but have had a financial setback that has cost them their prior home. Some cases involve losing a regular job and not being able to replace it with anything but part-time work. Seven percent of Helena's homeless actually have full-time jobs but had a situation arise that pushed them over the edge into homelessness.
Sometimes it is an illness; other times it is a needed car breaking down and requiring expensive repairs. Low-income families are particularly vulnerable to such setbacks. They naturally have greater expenses than the single members of our community, and often their savings are so low that it does not take much of a financial setback to cost them their home.
It should be noted that the public school district uses a slightly broader definition than the January survey to define homelessness, and their count indicates the number of homeless children is far greater than the number reported in the January survey — more than double, and perhaps three times greater if you extrapolate to include non-school age children.
The fastest growing group among the homeless are those in families with children. On any given night in the United States, the number of homeless families includes roughly a quarter of a million persons.
- HUD Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress
According to the National Center on Family Homelessness:
1.5 million children experience a period of homelessness every year. Forty-two percent of those children are below the age of 5.
Twice as many homeless children have moderate to severe health conditions as compared to middle-class children, including double the rate of serious emotional disturbance.
By age 12, 83% of homeless children have been exposed to at least one serious violent event.
Math and reading proficiencies for homeless children
are 16% below the norm. Thirty-six percent of homeless children repeat a grade.
Making a Change that Works!
The segment of the homeless population that responds best to assistance is families with children. Those families
that successfully leave an assistance program generally do not have a subsequent homeless period.
- National Alliance to End Homelessness