Family homelessness in New Bedford
Authors: Fabiola Antoine, Genesis Barrientos, and Leslie Mercure, students in Professor Gloria de Sa’s SOC/ANT 350, ‘Urban Issues in Public Policy’ (learn more about their collaboration with the UI by reading this post)
In our first class we learned that we would need to choose a project and present our findings to the class. As a group we were very excited about the topic of “Why are there so many Homeless in New Bedford” and immediately knew this was going to be the project for us. The topic of homelessness or poverty has always struck a chord with each of us. Growing up in poor neighborhoods was what ignited our curiosity. Being poor is not fun. Being homeless and poor are even worse. Homelessness can affect any of us; it can happen to you, it can be someone you love dearly. Some people are just a paycheck away from being in the same situation others have found themselves in and thought “how did I get here?”
Homelessness is an issue that can affect anyone and any city. Shelters have recently been seeing an increase in homeless families. We are defining a family as a least one parent with one child or a pregnant mother. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reported that in 2013 37.8 per cent of the American homeless population was people in families. In the city of New Bedford there were 97 homeless families and 257 homeless individuals in 2011. Our main objective was to find out how being homeless affects the family. Also, what are some of the causes that contribute to the homelessness of a family?
The first step taken towards answering the research questions was looking at the background of homelessness in the United States, Massachusetts and then a more narrow focus on the city of New Bedford. The City of New Bedford’s Community Development website has a lot of information on the City of New Bedford in the Community Development Consolidated Plan (revised for 2014). This plan outlines the homeless by several different factors: race, color, level of poverty, etc. It also lists all of the services that are provided to the homeless and what is being done to help “band aid” the situation. We all scoured the internet for any type of accurate information regarding the homeless. It’s unfortunate to say this but it was really easy to find information. Homelessness is a nationwide issue.
Local shelters were contacted in hope of being able to speak to a homeless family. Unfortunately we were not able to sit and speak with anyone at the shelters due to privacy issues. This hampered our research in that we wanted to get a firsthand look and feel to how it is to be homeless. We also wanted to be able to find out how the person got to that point in their life, what their future plans were and what they think should be done to help the homeless. Because we were not allowed to speak with anyone, this could not be done.
However, we attained background information from the shelter employees. We asked questions such as: how long the shelter had been open, how many clients live in the shelter, who was allowed in the shelter, how long could one stay in the shelter and how the shelter was funded? Some of the answers we received were interesting, the answers vary from each shelter; they were able to give us the information we needed. They were funded differently and hold different quantity of family. We thanked everyone that we called and asked two of the shelters if we could come by to just visit the location and get a feel for what the homeless dealt with on a daily basis. Sheltered homelessness is a better situation for anyone especially for a family. It beats living out on the streets. The centers were clean and the people were polite and seemed very caring. It was an eye opening experience and also sad at the same time. There is no privacy in the shelter. Everyone is in pretty close quarters.
Housing is one of the causes of homelessness and low cost housing attracts people to New Bedford. A lack of jobs then causes people and families to become homeless. High unemployment rates, lack of skills and/or education, domestic violence and long waiting lists for housing supplements that can lead to homelessness. In New Bedford the average homeless family consists of two people. These families were also more likely to be made up of a woman and a child.
Being a homeless family has many consequences for both the parent/s and the children involved. Through research we found that the consequences can be emotional and physical. Some shelters only allow women and children causing a family to break up if the husband is in the picture. A family takes this opportunity for the safety of their children but it then leaves the man out in the streets to fend for himself. Women’s shelters tend to shy away from allowing men since most of the women they help are victims of domestic violence. The Women’s Center of New Bedford has two family shelters and each with the capacity of holding six families. Families are allowed to stay there as long as they need but the longest stay was two years. They provide numerous services for the mother and the children. These programs range from legal advocacy to helping with doctor’s appointments and housing.
In conclusion, homelessness prevention is an essential element to end homelessness either locally or nationwide. In order to close the entry to homelessness, we come up with some strategies that can help both individuals and families. Such strategies include: creating more jobs in the underprivileged areas, increasing the minimum wage so parents can afford to support their family, create more housing programs and increasing the case management services substance abuse. This was an interesting learning project; we learned that homelessness is an undesirable condition that can affect us and the society in general.