Over 1,000 families and more than 2,000 children were homeless in Connecticut over the course of 2015. Nearly half of these children were under 5. Seventy percent of these families live in Fairfield, Hartford, and New Haven Counties – where our three organizations provide shelter, housing, and support services in an effort to end family homelessness.
Family homelessness is a stressful and traumatic experience – especially for the young minds of children. Research increasingly indicates that homelessness can have a detrimental impact on children’s development and ability to learn and thrive.
This creates damage in these young lives, and forces additional costs on our communities: homeless children are more likely than their peers to access medical care via emergency rooms, to require special services in schools, and to need similar, costly supports. In short – we save public funds when we help these families exit homelessness more quickly.
It is best for the health of these families — particularly for their children — and less costly for our communities to resolve family homelessness quickly by helping these families stabilize their lives. To do so requires streamlining access to quality childcare for these children to help them through a difficult period, while freeing their parents to find work or sign up for needed employment training, and secure permanent housing as quickly as possible.
Gov. Dannel Malloy has proposed legislation (S.B. 10, an Act Increasing Access to Childcare for Children who are Homeless) to create immediate eligibility for childcare subsidies for these families. This would remove an important barrier that now stands in the way for homeless families to access needed childcare. Removing this barrier would create an environment that supports struggling parents in their effort to break the cycle of homelessness and obtain employment, so that they can take care of their families and experience stability.
It’s important to note that most of the families experiencing homelessness are unable to access the state childcare subsidy known as “Care 4 Kids,” immediately, but will eventually be eligible for this assistance. But this can only occur only after the parents meet the required conditions of being employed or enrolled in job training.
These current Care 4 Kids requirements create a Catch-22 for those facing homelessness: Families often become homeless due to the loss of a job, and the unpredictability of being homelessness makes it nearly impossible for a parent to secure new employment or participate in job training.
Shelters and other service providers struggle to patch together the emergency resources that might enable parents to secure childcare so that they can get a job or gain employable skills – and then meet the Care 4 Kids requirements to obtain the childcare subsidy that they desperately need.
Resolving this Catch-22 is critical if we are to help these families get back on their feet and housed quickly. Stabilizing these families helps relieve the unnecessary costs their homelessness will impose on our communities. That is why six other states (Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Washington) created priority eligibility for childcare subsidies based on homelessness.
This targeting can help to level the playing field for families who are systematically disadvantaged from obtaining the resources they need due to the nature and severity of their circumstances. These families’ needs may become more complex and expensive while their homelessness persists. This raises the costs of this problem to taxpayers and communities. Expediting access to childcare for these particularly vulnerable families is the right thing to do – for these families, for these children, and for our communities. Creating streamlined access to childcare subsidies for this population has a high return on investment: impacting young lives to the good, while saving precious public dollars.
Lena Rodriguez is President and Chief Executive Officer, Community Renewal Team.
Kellyann Day, Chief Executive Officer, New Reach.