Magazine article Public Welfare

The Relationship between Foster Care and Homelessness

Magazine article Public Welfare

The Relationship between Foster Care and Homelessness

Article excerpt

Research shows that children in foster care have a greater chance of becoming homeless adults.

I never felt like I was lovedthat anybody really cared. felt like the black sheep of the family. Latasha

Birmingham, Alabama

In the late 1980s, the National Alliance To End Homelessness began to hear from service providers around the country that a seemingly disproportionate number of homeless people had a foster care history. Although their conclusions were based largely on anecdotal information, providers reported that many of the people who were becoming homeless as adults had been in foster care as children, often spending years in a mixture of official foster care placements and other, less formal, "placements" with relatives and friends. At the time, the alliance was involved in a national project on the prevention of homelessness. The alliance was motivated to pursue the foster care issue because it believed that if foster care and homelessness were somehow connected, interventions in the foster care system might help to prevent homelessness.

As the alliance began to investigate, it discovered that both foster care placements and homelessness increased in the United States during the 1980s. It also found some research on individual homeless programs, and on specific subpopulations of the homeless population, that did indeed indicate that people with a foster care history were overrepresented among the homeless people surveyed. Moreover, there was evidence that homeless people with a foster care history were more likely than other homeless people to have their own children in foster care.

Based on these preliminary findings, the alliance decided to undertake a modest research project to examine the relationship between foster care and homelessness on a national level and across all subpopulations of people who are homeless. The research was funded by the Freddie Mac Foundation. The full findings, which are summarized in this article, are contained in Web of Failure: The Relationship Between Foster Care and Homelessness and its appendix, published by the alliance.

The Complex Nature of Homelessness his article examines the interrelationship between foster care and homelessness.l Its purpose is to establish whether or not people with a foster care history are overrepresented in the homeless population.

To properly understand any relationship between homelessness and foster care, one must first understand the complex nature of homelessness. Homeless people are the poorest of our nation's poor, and as such reflect the face of poverty in America. They are families, primarily with one parent, but often with two. They are people who work but do not earn enough to pay for housing. They are unemployed people-those looking for work and those, young and old, who have never worked. And they are women and children escaping from domestic violence.

The alliance estimates that on any given night, over 730,000 Americans are homeless. Over the course of a year, between 1.3 million and 2 million Americans are homeless. This number includes the people who live on the streets, in emergency or transitional shelters, and in cars or abandoned buildings. It does not include the people housed in institutions, the millions of people who are doubled up with family or friends, or the millions more who are precariously housed, paying such a large percentage of their incomes for rent that any unforeseen medical expense or temporary job loss could dislodge them. However, all of these individuals make up the pool from which people cycle in and out of homelessness.

The homeless population exhibits a wide variety of characteristics. Some homeless people have mental illnesses or substance abuse illnesses, whereas others are handicapped. Some have a criminal justice history; others are escaping from violent domestic situations. Most are men, and minorities tend to be overrepresented in the population. …

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