Homelessness and housing instability and related factors of education, childcare and transportation can be viewed as separate issues, which can diminish the effectiveness of potential solutions and create community silos. Understanding the intersection of challenges that individuals and families face from housing instability to homelessness are critical to creating holistic housing solutions that can promote housing stability, improve education and support overall well being.
THE NUMBERS TODAY
In 2013, a study conducted by Harvard University and UC Berkeley ranked Charlotte 50th out of 50 in economic mobility among the largest US cities, meaning a child born in poverty has greater difficulty getting out of poverty compared to other large cities.
The McKinney-Vento (MCV) Act authorizes funding for programs that are dedicated to serving homeless children. This program mandates that homeless children have equal access to the same free public education as their peers. Children who live doubled up with other individuals or live in a shelter, motel, abandoned building, park, or other inadequate accommodations qualify for certain protections and rights. The rights include free public education, immediate enrollment in school (even if lacking documents), and transportation to and from school of origin (even if the family has relocated).
Mecklenburg County has the largest MCV student population in North Carolina with 4,598 students identified. In contrast to the Point-In-Time Count definition of homelessness defined by HUD, MCV considers the individuals experiencing literal homelessness as well as those experiencing housing instability. When assisting homeless youth, it is especially important to look at the housing spectrum as a whole, which includes those experiencing housing instability.
THE IMPACT OF THE NUMBERS
According to the 2016 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Family Homelessness Snapshot Report completed by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, on average students identified as McKinney-Vento in CMS scored lower on both math and reading compared to the overall school district. CMS McKinney-Vento Specialist Sonia Jenkins, shared with me her personal experience from working with the McKinney-Vento program. Her experience mirrors the data in the study. She notes that housing has an impact that goes beyond the lack of shelter; not having a stable place to spend the night contributes to other kinds of stress that can show up in the classroom.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
The lack of affordable housing is the primary driver for the challenges we see in housing instability and homelessness. In Mecklenburg County, housing prices are rising while wages remain stagnant. It is estimated that over 34,000 more units of affordable housing are needed to meet the current demand of those making 60% or less of the area median income (AMI). When families are unable to afford housing, they are often forced to find alternative arrangements, which include shelter, hotels, their car or doubling up with friends and families.
Additionally, there are not enough resources for those experiencing homelessness, especially for families. Recently there there has been an increase locally in single dads seeking shelter with their children. Currently to enter shelter, single dads experiencing homelessness would have to be separated from their children unless a room for a family is available, which is rarely the case.
WHERE DOES THE COMMUNITY NEED TO GO FROM HERE?
The community must look at the full spectrum of housing instability and homelessness to consider sustainable, long-term solutions that can solve housing as well as the underlying issues that present barriers to obtaining and sustaining housing.
There is a need for more affordable housing as well as more income. Creating more jobs that pay living wages and provide access to benefits and advancement opportunities increase the likelihood that a family can pay their rent. Likewise, housing programs and human services can provide financial literacy and asset development programs so that a family that can start down a path that leads to long-term housing stability.
By looking at the intersections across sectors and along the spectrum of housing instability and homelessness, the community is better able to understand the challenges that cause and perpetuate the problem and identify potential solutions that can create change.
To do this well, it is important for the community to try to connect the dots as much as possible. Examples of this includes housing and homelessness providers collaborating across the network versus competing for services and the same population. It also includes funders considering the full landscape of need and services in order to fund impact strategies rather than targeting assistance on the agency level. It can mean looking at creating and strengthening policies that impact housing as well as education, childcare, transportation, employment and asset development.
In August, the State of Housing & Homelessness Report will be released by Mecklenburg County on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homelessness Dashboard. This new report, which is completed by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, replaces the Point-in-Time Count report. It marks the first time that the community will receive a comprehensive report that looks at the full spectrum of housing instability and homelessness in order to show the full picture. The next series of blog posts will focus on this report release and what it means for the community.
This post is authored by Brandon Sweeney.
Brandon Sweeney is a senior at Duke University double majoring in Public Policy and English with a minor in Education. During the summer, Brandon served as an intern for Mecklenburg County Community Support Services through DukeEngage, Duke University’s signature service learning program. Brandon worked with Courtney Morton on developing community and agency-level briefs related to the Point-in-Time Count and researching and reporting on information related to homelessness and housing funding and affordable housing strategies.