Generation Homeless: Young adults put new face on old problem


Shelters for young adults in King County are turning people away in record numbers as unemployment escalates and housing costs continue to be out of reach.

This surge in demand for shelter reveals a new face of homelessness, one fueled by the legacy of a failing foster care system and young people stranded by the crack epidemic of the late 1980s.

Tony Torres, 22, managed kidney failure and weekly dialysis treatments while homeless for four years. He recently obtained temporary housing. Photo by Mike Kane/InvestigateWest

Some of those young people are now having families of their own, and without resources, are winding up homeless. Families are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population. Yet the group driving this trend – young adults ages 18-24 – is generally under-counted and under-represented when solutions are envisioned. Relatively few resources are being directed to prevent them from producing new generations of homeless families.

One of the most disturbing legacies of homelessness is that it can be handed down from parent to child. Children who experience homelessness growing up are more likely to experience it as adults.

Casi Jackson is part of the problem, and part of the solution. At work at a homeless outreach center on Seattle’s Eastside, she shifts her daughter, Tiana, 7 months, on her hip and juggles a cell phone in her other hand while she fields a call from a scared-sounding mom with  no place to sleep tonight. Slender, with long curly hair, and an unflinching manner, Jackson is matter-of-fact on the phone, and sounds older than her 22 years.  She knows what it’s like to be staring down a night without shelter.

Homeless families are typically headed by young women with young children.

A Streamlined Resource for the Homeless

When a single mom with two children flees a domestic violence situation and has no money, no relatives, and no place to go, what does she do? She can contact 211.

I am not sure many people know about this service, but the state manages a resource line that provides the names and contact information of organizations that assist the public. The resource directory is also online at http://www.resourcehouse.info/win211/.

The 211 website search function for transitional housing in King County came up with 71 listings. A statewide search came up with 143 listings. The listings typically provide the phone number, hours, a link to the website, and the address. (Note: the addresses for domestic violence shelters are not listed.)

When searching “domestic violence,” a page that narrows the search by topics appears. Topics include a multilingual shelter hotline, domestic violence support groups, counseling services for children affected by domestic violence, and much more.

Overall, the website was fairly easy to use and you can search by county or area code, which is nice. You can even create an account to save searches. The second option is to call 211. The phone operator first prompts you to press one for English and two for Spanish. These two options make me wonder what non-English or Spanish-speaking refugees and immigrant populations do when first faced with a crisis situation.

The voice-recorded operator then directs the caller to dial a number for H1N1 or census information. After wasting my valuable minutes, I am finally transferred to a real-life person. His name is Cory. I soon learn from Cory that the area code of the phone number a person used to dial 211 directs them to that specific county’s information line. For example, I live in Seattle, but I have a 360 area code, so I was automatically routed to the call center for Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties.

Defining “Family” Homelessness

When I am researching family homelessness, the question that continues to recur is, what defines a family? In 2009, a two-parent homeless family made up 13.5 percent of the homeless population in Washington State, while a single woman with children made up nearly 27 percent of the population.

Not identified in this state report were children living in homeless situations with extended family members, such as a grandma or an aunt. According to a study by the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly three million children lived with a grandparent without either parent present. That number increased to nearly seven million when parents had their parents living with them.

The problem with identifying families as only parents and children is that it may leave out the true head of the household. For instance, a grandfather may be the sole income generator for a single mother, but if they lose their apartment or house, the grandfather and granddaughter will more than likely have to be split up into different transitional housing units because units in the state only take what they classify as homeless women with children.

A broader definition of what creates a family needs to be determined to allow comprehensive services to be available to all types of families. There are families that are inter-generational and families with same-sex couples, families that take on the care for a friend’s child and families that consist of a brother and sister. Splitting these families up not only causes emotional stress, it also causes deep- rooted negative feelings towards agencies that may be trying to help them.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Hope for homeless vets in Seattle - a government, nonprofit and private collaboration

There are a lot of homeless people living in cars or camping out under overpasses in Lake City. So many that the Seattle neighborhood has its own task force on homelessness. But this is a task force that helps turn words into action.

rita_hibbardwebJohn, a Vietnam veteran who lived on the streets of Lake City for 15 years, says it’s “scary” to move into his own apartment.  He hopes he will find camaraderie in his new apartment building where 38 of the 75 units are reserved for homeless vets.

"The thing is to have people become a family here and not 75 individuals," John told Keith Ervin of The Seattle Times. "It's important that people watch out for each other."

John’s sentiments remind me of Stan, who I met outside the Seattle Center last weekend after attending a session on homelessness at the Guiding Lights weekend conference. The session, presented by Bill Block, project director of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County, volunteer and author Judy Lightfoot and homeless advocate Joe Ingram, highlighted the number of homeless people in Seattle and King County, and how we as individuals can relate to them person-to-person.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Red tents for the homeless in Vancouver - while the world is watching

With 500 people in metro Vancouver, B.C., hunkering down without a roof overhead nightly, an advocacy group wants to distribute red tents to the city's homeless to make shelter on the sidewalks -- at the height of the Olympic games festivities.


The Tyee reports:

Picture homeless people camped on downtown sidewalks. Big yawns inside bright red tents as the sun rises on another Olympics day. Early next month, Pivot Legal Society hopes to ask city council's permission to start handing out 500 collapsible shelters to Vancouver's most needy. Pivot's rights activists want to confront a city enthralled by Olympic jubilation with the reality of local poverty. And test the limits of constitutional law.

British Columbia Supreme Court rulings have upheld the right of the homeless to camp in public spaces when there is no other shelter. So Pivot is offering donors the right to "sponsor" a tent for $100 and shelter a homeless person. With world attention about to be focused on Vancouver during the Olympic games, the timing of the Red Tent campaign is no accident.

"We want the media to experience the most liveable city in the world and also see the contradiction -- that this is a city that has a chronic problem with poverty and homelessness," Pivot Executive Director John Richardson said. "We want them to ask, 'What is the Canadian government doing about this?'"

-- Rita Hibbard

Man In A Van captures stories of the recession, reminds us of what we're thankful for

There was the Detroit hotel and restaurant owner who tried to kill himself.

Then there was the Maryland political analyst who lost her $760,000 home to foreclosure. Aaron Heideman found her living in a Toyota Camry.

And who could forget the guy running a food bank in Georgia who said he was going into debt at the rate of $1,000 a month to help his neighbors?

Those are just three of the hundreds of stories Aaron Heideman, aka The Man In A Van, collected on a cross-country odyssey to hear from Americans, in their own words, how their lives have been affected by the recession.

“How has the recession affected you?” A sign atop his van asks.

“Tell me your story,” beckons the van’s side.

Laid off from his job at a paint store in southern Oregon, Heideman decided he would do a conceptual art project, driving his pencil-yellow Dodge van through California, Nevada, Colorado, Texas, Florida, up the Eastern Seaboard and through New England to Grand Rapids, Mich.

[caption id="attachment_6365" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Heideman outside a Wallingford laundromat"]Heideman outside a Wallingford laundromat[/caption]

That’s where he entered himself in the annual ArtPrize competition in September, hoping to win the $250,000 prize.

He didn’t. So he recently moved to Seattle, where he went to art school and lived for some years. That’s where I caught up with him.

A South Florida news reporter who met Heideman in the summer described him as “not-surprisingly scruffy” because the bearded, sandal-clad artist was living in his van. This week the clean-shaven 29-year-old was dressed in a light-blue button-down shirt, neatly pressed grey slacks and shiny black shoes. He’s job hunting.

Vancouver seeks to jail homeless who refuse shelter; critics point to Olympics cleanup

The British Columbia provincial government is backpedaling in the face of outrage over legislation it drafted allowing the jailing of homeless people who refuse shelter in severe weather.

A partial draft of the legislation leaked, prompting officials to take pains to explain that what got out was an early draft discussion paper and not a proposal, reports Jonathan Fowlie of The Vancouver Sun. It was prompted by the death of a homeless woman on the streets in a fire she was using to keep warm last winter, said Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman:

It’s about trying to get them [homeless people] to a place where we can show them what’s available so they can make a decision hopefully to not freeze. There’s no movement to say we’re going to take them to jail. There’s no movement to say we’re going to put them in a secure facility.

Critics charge that the move is intended to help clear the streets of undesirable people in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The city's Downtown Eastside neighborhood houses hundreds of homeless people and has become an embarrassment to city and provincial officials.

For a taste of the criticism, dip into Harsha Walia's post on the Sun's Community of Interest page, which details how similar street-cleanings took place in Atlanta (which has *much* more dangerous neighborhoods than Vancouver) and other cities where past Olympics were held. Walia cites a report by the Geneva-based Center on Housing Rights and Evictions etitled "Fair Play for Housing Rights." An AP story by Erica Bulman summarizes the report.

Update 3:50 p.m. : Whoops. I totally forgot to include this interesting Globe and Mail story that InvestigateWest intern Emily Linroth pointed out to me.

Rats and poor tenants check out to make room for 2010 Olympic guests?

Tenants of a rat-infested hotel in Downtown Eastside Vancouver are being encouraged by the city to stay, despite an eviction notice from their landlord, reports Doug Ward in the Vancouver Sun. The landlord told tenants they would have to leave by the end of September so pest control could take care of the rats, cockroaches and bedbugs in the hotel. The city says it's illegal and unnecessary for the hotel's low-income residents to leave, because the pests could be taken care of while tenants are there. The city fears the landlord plans to kick all the tenants out so he could renovate the hotel and rent its rooms to clients with higher incomes, potentially visitors to the 2010 Olympic Games. The current tenants could end up homeless if the eviction was successful.

– Emily Linroth