Health Education Empowers Homeless Women

Megha Shah at Ozanam Shelter Photo Credit: Patti Verbanas, Rutgers University

When pharmacy student Megha Shah began her internship at the Ozanam Family Shelter in Edison, NJ, she was prepared to improve the health literacy of the residents. What she didn’t realize was how much the residents would teach her.

Shah, who will graduate in 2019 from the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers University, spent seven weeks this summer developing a health education program at the emergency shelter that houses 16 single women and 26 families in Middlesex County. She participated as part of the Bridging the Gaps Community Health Internship, a program that links graduate students preparing for careers in health and social services with community initiatives in underserved populations. The Philadelphia-based program is administered in New Jersey by Rutgers School of Public Health.

To begin, Shah distributed a survey to find out what was most important to the residents. From the responses, she created four two-hour classes: women’s health, staying safe, medication safety and dental and oral hygiene.

Shah’s biggest surprise – and challenge – was finding a way to make the women want to care about their health. “I discovered health is not a priority for this population. Their concern is finding a home or job, while health and wellness takes a backseat,” she says. “Because I am still a pharmacy student, my interactions with patients have always been limited , so engaging a large audience with opposing priorities was new territory for me.”

She also had to navigate an age gap. “Many of these women were older and had children. I had to figure out a way to relate to them, to approach them casually so they wouldn’t think I was lecturing them,” she says. “I approached each class from the perspective of camaraderie: ‘Woman to woman, let’s have a heart to heart.’”

Realizing that humor would help break down the walls and keep attendees engaged, Shah filled her presentation slides with gifs and funny memes and spoke directly to the group rather than reading from prepared notes.

The tactics worked. With each class, Shah’s audience grew and the sessions became more interactive. To make the classes easier for mothers to attend, she moved them to the activity room and provided games for their children so they could be entertained and watched.

Shah discovered that much of the information she presented was new to the group. By providing resources in an accessible way, she demonstrated how they could prioritize their health and wellness as part of their daily routine. “For example, I showed them how little things like drinking an extra bottle of water a day or limiting their smoking can make a difference,” she says. “They do care and want to be proactive about their health.”

At the end of the internship, Shah coordinated details for St. Peter’s Healthcare System’s mobile van to be on site at the shelter to provide blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol screenings. She also created health packets for the shelter to distribute to women when they leave. The exit packets include information sheets with fast health and wellness facts and the locations of the closest health centers, with notes on which accept Medicaid or patients with no insurance and those that provide care on a sliding scale basis and offer prescription services. To further assist the women in acquiring medication, Shah enlisted a prescription discount program to donate coupons and included information on name-brand and generic over-the-counter medication in the packet.

Shah credits the success of the health education program to her preceptor, Rebecca Rhoads, the housing and social justice service area director at Catholic Charities, which operates Ozanam. “I care strongly about women’s health, and she was very open minded and encouraging about my suggestions for building a program,” Shah says.

Teaching at Ozanam marked a turning point for Shah, who decided she wanted to study medicine in high school. It wasn’t until after a health scare during her undergraduate career that she knew she definitely wanted to continue to pursue pharmacy. “I was prescribed the wrong medicine during a hospital stay. My mother is a retail pharmacist and flagged the error when she realized it would have been dangerous to me in my condition,” she says. “It was then that I knew I needed to learn more about medications before I pursued any further education.”

Originally considering employment in retail pharmacy, Shah now aims to work with underserved communities, perhaps at a local hospital or clinic, to continue to improve health literacy in marginalized groups. “There’s so much education a pharmacist can do from a retail standpoint,” she says. “I believe I can change more lives by serving this population.”

Empowering Homeless Women in San Francisco

San Francisco’s overall population is about 864,816 and San Francisco has more than 7,000 homeless people of which 35% are women in the ages between 20-50 years.

With only 1,100 shelter beds available in the city, there are around 4,500 unsheltered homeless living in tents, parks and on the street.

International research on homelessness shows that the majority of homeless people can get out of homelessness through a well-targeted effort that ensures both a housing solution coupled with individual close social support.

During my interactions with the San Francisco Homeless Outreach Team and homeless people, I have witnessed how homelessness is caused by a variety of factors to include loss of stable housing, abuse and/or mental illness as well as lack of access to healthcare and mental health treatment.

Also, loneliness in a new home, lack of structure in everyday life and lack of a job are among the main risk factors for relapse into homelessness which causes a return back into their “old”  homeless environment. Studies in Denmark has shown that a consistency in support by a support person is an important aid in the work of building a new start.  

Money and building more affordable housing can not be the only answer when it comes to homelessness. Homelessness must also be accepted in society as a situation where a homeless person need a care plan which can both include support for physical or/and mental problems.

Life on the street is hard and merciless, and it takes strength to survive. Homeless people live a vulnerable life without basic protection and basic needs many of us take for granted like being able to cook a meal, go to the bathroom or have a shower. Additionally, they are also more exposed to violence, theft, assault in relation to others and are more likely to get diseases.

Small things do make a difference

I recognized that I may not be able to change the world or solve the homelessness problem, but I felt that I needed to take responsible for what is happening around me. The idea for Project Blossom formed a year ago, as I was reading different articles about being homeless as a woman and the difficulties getting sanitary products during the monthly female period.

Homeless women can sometimes get sanitary products from shelters. However, many women do not have the option to reside in a shelter, and their options are limited. This is often an overlooked issue, and yet something we as women face every month. I think most women know the feeling of periods being awful, inconvenient, dirty, uncomfortable, excruciating, exhausting and a very private matter or have been in a situation where we forgot all about that time a month and get caught off guard.

The Blossom Foundation hands out sanitary bags to San Francisco homeless women to aid them in managing their monthly female menstruation. The intention is to give women a feeling of being cared for and a feeling of identity and dignity. The Blossom Foundation recognizes  these basic needs and want to increase homeless women self-worth.

At the end of September 2016, The Blossom Foundation handed out the first 300 bags filled with pads, tampons, hand sanitizer, wet wipes and water. This served as a trial and has all come together with support from the neighborhood, a few corporate donors and RETHINK water.

I am well aware that handing out sanitary products won’t solve all of the problems these women face, but I believe that even the small things do make a difference. I believe we can and should offer these women some respect and positive attention. The mission of the Blossom Foundation is to improve the lives of homeless women and help empower women with dignity and hope. 

I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…Malala Yousafzai

Foundations for Tomorrow: Helping Huntsville’s Homeless


Foundations for Tomorrow is a community initiative that provides a tiny home community where Huntsville’s homeless can reside whilst transitioning back into society. This unique initiative was founded by Nicky Beale after the eviction of Huntsville’s Homeless from tent city in the Spring of 2014.

Foundations for Tomorrow has set its sights on building 30 tiny homes that will populate an acre of land, and allow its inhabitants to develop a community where they will live, eat and work together, according to the group’s fundraising site. Foundations for Tomorrow gained tremendous community support, helping this unique organisation help those who need it most.

SWH: Could you tell us about the mission and vision you have for Foundations for Tomorrow?

Beale: Our mission is to provide a tiny home community in which Huntsville’s homeless can reside while transitioning back into society. We hope to have a village for our homeless to temporarily reside in while they find a job, apply for public housing, and get the services they need to help them contribute to society.

SWH: How did your first tiny homes project come about?

Beale: It all started with my passion for tiny homes. I am a single mom with a five year old so living tiny would be a hard transition for us. But, I had a passion to give back to my community and a passion to change lives, so I decided to start building tiny homes and letting the homeless live in them. I thought it was a genius idea, but when I googled it, Andrew Heben with Opportunity Village has just stood up a village in Eugene Oregon. I connected with him and people in the Huntsville community and it all started to come together in a snowball way. I truly believe that if you start living your purpose, things will align in a divine way. At least with me, it did and still is.

SWH: What types of challenges and barriers have you run into?

Beale: There are a lot of challenges and barriers when trying to implement tiny homes as a viable solution to homelessness. First and foremost are zoning codes. Tiny homes are considered camping and in most cities, you are not allowed to camp within the city limits. These rules are to protect property value so it is hard to get city support to allow tiny homes. Another challenge we face is the lack of education on homelessness. People have stereotypes about the homeless that have to be undone.

City officials here believe that our tiny homes are inhumane because they don’t have running water or electricity. This is understandable coming from a person with a house, but when you spend any time in tent cities you realize that providing a hardened structure for our homeless citizens is the first step to reintegrating them back into the community. It provides them with security, privacy, a dry place to sleep, an address, and most importantly gives them a big dose of hope that living in a tent takes from them.


SWH: For people who are interested in replicating what you did in their local communities what steps would you advise them to take?

Beale: First and foremost educate yourself by reading Andrew Heben’s book Tent City Urbanism. It walks you through all the important steps of taking a tent city and transitioning the people to a hardened structure. He touches on all the barriers and challenges and how they overcame them. Second, would be to start talking to people in the community that already deal with the homeless on a regular basis to try and build support through other non-profits.

They can be very helpful in addressing who the important stakeholders are in the community. Another step is to familiarize yourself with the homeless in your city. See what challenges they face and what their day consists of so you can be an educated representative for them. After all that preparation and homework you can start to address city leaders.

SWH: What is next for Foundations for Tomorrow, and how can people support your efforts?

Beale: Foundations for Tomorrow is currently finishing our third house. We have an event with a local brewery and pizza place on Valentine’s Day to raise money and awareness. The Foundation is hosting a Tiny Home Build Workshop in April so people can learn how to build a tiny home and give back to the community at the same time. If anyone would like to help in our mission they can donate on our website,

Changing Hearts, Changing Lives: How 5 Social Initiatives in Chicago Are Making a Difference


Home to 9.5 million people, Chicago is the third-largest city in the United States and internationally recognized for its contributions to finance, transportation, commerce and culture. In the 2014 Global Cities Index, Chicago earned its fourth-consecutive top 10 ranking for its impact in business, information exchange, cultural experience and political dialogue. But despite all that Chicago is doing right, for some, life in the Windy City still presents challenges. Vulnerable populations, including children and adults, need the help of professionals.

Poverty affects 33 percent of children in Chicago, according to ThinkProgress, compared to 20 percent for all children in Illinois. And All Chicago, a nonprofit organization, reports that approximately half of all renters and homeowners arecost burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their income toward housing costs. Poverty has led to high figures for homelessness and hunger:

  • 138,575 Chicago residents were homeless in the 2013-14 school year, a 19.4 percent increase from the previous year (Chicago Coalition for the Homeless)
  • One in six (812,100) in Cook County receives food from a member agency grocery or meal program (Greater Chicago Food Depository)

And although Chicago has seen an overall improvement in violent crime, it has increased in certain areas of the city. “In the early 1990s, the most dangerous third of the city saw about six times more murders than the safest third,” Chicago writer Daniel Kay Hertz reports. “Over the last several years, the most dangerous third has seen between 12 and 16 times more homicides.”

Social workers are answering the call for help. By teaming up with initiatives and organizations, led by community leaders and professionals in education, psychology and more, social workers are truly making a difference for those in need.

Social workers are educated professionals trained to help at-risk populations. They can work in community centers, agencies, rehabilitation centers and other areas. A program such as the online Bachelor of Social Work from Aurora University gives those with a passion for changing lives the tools they need to succeed, including courses in how to work with groups, the special needs of children and adolescents, how to work with communities and groups, and more.

Val Starr, an Aurora University alumna who assisted homeless veterans as a social worker at Catholic Charities and now works for the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital, is just one example of how social workers are making a difference in Chicago.

“I have really found my passion working with this population and their unique needs,” Starr said. “It means so much to me to have the ability to help them.”

Education was the first step in Starr’s journey to change the lives of those who need help the most. “The education I received at AU was so beneficial to this position because it helped me understand and recognize mental health needs, taught me strategies for working with individuals from all walks of life and helping them cope with their daily struggles,” she said.

Learn how social workers like Val are making life in Chicago better, as we examine five initiatives that are helping make the city a safer, more accessible place to live.

1. Chicago Safe Start

Who it helps: According to the 2014 annual report for Safe From the Start (SFS), 4,350 children have sought treatment at the 11 Illinois sites since the program was launched, with a mean age of 4.7. Seventy-six percent of children had a single parent, while 58 percent of children came from families with annual household incomes of less than $15,000. On average, 22 percent of children were exposed to additional violence after services began.

In 1999, following the tragic deaths of 13 people at Columbine High School, President Bill Clinton called a national summit to address the subject of children and violence. The event included experts in childhood development and juvenile justice, and the findings shed light on the damage that exposure to violence can have on children.

The summit’s accompanying report said that “Being abused or neglected as a child increases the likelihood of arrest as a juvenile by 53 percent and of arrest for a violent crime as an adult by 38 percent.” Plus, there are long-term consequences for the child. Educational difficulties, alcohol and drug abuse, employment problems and mental health problems such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were mentioned for children who were exposed to violence in some way.

As a result of the summit and national attention on childhood exposure to violence, 11 Safe From the Start demonstration sites launched in 2000, with Chicago Safe Start as one of the original locations. A program of the Chicago Department of Public Health, it provides therapy for children ages six and under who have been exposed to violence, either directly or as a witness in the home or in public. Its ultimate aim is to help prevent and reduce the negative impact that violence can have on young children.

Alongside social workers who intern in the program, therapists identify and approach any issues that the child may have, such as aggression, sleep difficulties or anxiety. Through mental health and family support services, such as child-parent psychotherapy, workers treat the trauma, which can include a parent or caregiver as well.

According to the report, the program has successfully helped children and caregivers. “The data to date indicates that families that participate in Safe From the Start Services experience a significant reduction in child symptoms and caregiver stress, and an improvement in child and caregiver functioning … examination of key outcome indicators over the last several years of the project suggests that sites are having an increasingly positive impact on families that they serve.”

The success of this program could ultimately be used to help even more children across the country. “As program development continues, Safe From the Start will likely serve as a model program nationally for efforts to address issues related to young children’s exposure to violence.”

2. Elev8 at Perspectives Academy

Who it helps: Since opening in 2008, Perspectives has helped more than 2,800 middle school students in one or more Elev8 programs. When the health center opened in May 2008, the immunization rate increased from 43 percent to 94 percent over the next 12 months. Also, since the health center opened, Perspectives has reached 100 percent compliance rates each year.

Taking place in more than a dozen schools across Baltimore, Oakland, New Mexico and Chicago, Elev8 brings together schools, families and community partners in low-income area middle schools to help students succeed in high school. Perspectives Middle Academy in Auburn Gresham is one of five public middle schools in the Chicago area, giving children access to a school-based health center and exciting possibilities in the cornerstone of the program, extended day opportunities.

These after school services help give students not only a safe space, but the skills needed to succeed in high school and beyond. “We really wanted to use the after school programs as a way to help students develop new skills, but also expose students to different areas of thinking about ‘What do I want to do when I grow up? Do I want to be a chef? Should I take culinary arts? What does that really look like?’” said Tenisha Jones, education director at Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation. “So if you were in a culinary arts program, at the end of the eight weeks you’re able to get on a bus and go to a real culinary arts program to cook with a real cook in a real kitchen to really make the after school programs tie back into real world experiences for the students.”

One program geared toward STEM for girls has led one graduate to make a college decision to pursue forensic chemistry at Western Illinois University, reports Gordon Walek, writer for Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). From STEM and the culinary arts to martial arts, students can find something they love and get a real glimpse into their future opportunities.

The extended day opportunities are offered from 3:45 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, in addition to a four-week summer program that runs 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The school-based health center provides primary care such as immunizations and physicals, and mental health services are planned for the future.

For Jones, the success of Elev8 at Perspectives has meant a great deal. “I feel as though I have truly been blessed. It’s been a really special opportunity to be a part of having the resources to develop and implement a project of this nature with many moving pieces, and really looking at the theory behind why we need to do these things,” she said. “The results that I’ve seen because of this project have been phenomenal, really the crowning glory of my career at this point. I’ve seen kids go from sixth grade to 12th grade, and I’ve seen mentorship happen because after school providers take special interest in kids and wind up saving a kid from going off the wrong track.”

3. Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives

Who it helps: Low- and moderate-income communities such as West Garfield Park. According to analysis from the Social IMPACT Research Center, more than 40 percent of West Garfield Park households are below the poverty level, and 19.4 percent of households are in extreme poverty with incomes below 50 percent of the poverty line.

Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives (CNI) has announced plans for the world’s largest rooftop farm at the Method Home Products manufacturing facility. Designed, built and operated by Gotham Greens, the state-of-the-art agricultural greenhouse will produce up to 1 million pounds of fresh produce each year and bring nearly 150 jobs to Pullman. The food will then be distributed to local farmer’s markets, retailers, restaurants and community groups.

This is one of many accomplishments for CNI, a nonprofit community development organization that helps low- and moderate-income communities revitalize neighborhoods and improve economically. Since 2010, it has generated 12,000 jobs and 135 affordable housing units in Chicago neighborhoods located on the Far South Side and the West Side, such as those in Pullman, Englewood, West Garfield Park and Austin.

In February of 2015, CNI was recognized with the Community Strategy of the Year Award at the annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards by LISC. According to U.S. Bank, which funds and supports CNI, CNI has achieved a number of high-profile initiatives in 2014:

  • Completing the first phase of Pullman Park, bringing a Walmart, Planet Fitness and Ross Dress to an abandoned factory site.
  • Selling of 38 rehabbed homes to revitalize houses in local communities.
  • Launch of a microlending program, CNI Micro Finance Group. It has helped more than 40 businesses with $500,000 in microloans, 82 percent of loan recipients were firms owned by African-Americans and 52 percent went to small businesses owned by women.

As a result, CNI has helped strengthened in-need communities across the greater Chicagoland area.

4. Chicago Help Initiative

Who it helps: Since 2001, 157,000 meals have been served to Chicago-area people in need.

In 1999, commercial real estate broker Jacqueline C. Hayes came face-to-face with the homeless when trying to show a location, when a major street closed just off Michigan Avenue and Oak Street. “A lot of the homeless started coming and living in the doorways, and I had to ask them to move, in order to show spaces,” Hayes said. “I was so anxious that this is what tourists would see when they came to the city; then I reversed it, and I thought, ‘How awful that people felt safe living in doorways?’ And so I just wanted to do something about it, and I gathered various organizations together.”

This moment prompted Hayes to action. It began with handouts on how to help the homeless, and later became the Chicago Help Initiative (CHI), which provides meals to those in need and connects them to resources that can break the cycle of hunger.

Most of the guests are homeless. Many have mental issues. And about 20 percent are veterans. But every Wednesday, at the dining hall facilities provided by Catholic Charities, a distinguished meal is served for 135 people (and bag meals for another 70 to 90). Tablecloths and flowers are set, and food is provided by area restaurants, hotels, businesses and people in the community. It’s this approach that has made such an impact on guests; once, the InterContinental Chicago hotel catered in prime rib, a gesture that caused some guests to become emotional because they had never had it before.

The food is just a part of the experience. The Wednesday dinners often include birthday celebrations, and sometimes there is live entertainment or a game night. Often, guests hear a presentation on a certain topic that can help. For instance, the CHI has had the Safer Foundation discuss expunging one’s criminal record, the Lincoln Park Community Shelter present housing information and Streetwise speak on employment opportunities. Guests also have access to a jobs table and a resource table for housing and other needs. A nurse practitioner and other health representatives are on hand, and, according to Hayes, there are plans to provide dentistry and eye care support for guests.

This is all possible through volunteers that help during the weekly dinners and other events such as the literacy program and the bike fair. Interns in the CHI make phone calls to social workers to secure speakers for the dinners, and they get to interface with the guests. Donors and sponsors in the community also help the CHI reach guests.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” Hayes said. “It gives you a lot of contentment to know that I’m helping, and that’s true for each of the volunteers and the board members, that we know we’re doing something.”

5. Urban Initiatives

Who it helps: Beginning in 2003 with just 12 children and two teachers, Urban Initiatives now serves more than 16,000 children, a majority who are minorities and living in households that are at or below the poverty line.

Across 38 Chicago Public Schools, children from kindergarten through twelfth grade have access to programs that can improve their health and academic performance — and, perhaps most notably, their character.

This is all offered by Urban Initiatives, taking place in three sports-based youth development programs:

  • Work to Play is the flagship program from Urban Initiatives that allows children from kindergarten to fourth grade to participate on a soccer team. With two practices and one game each week, children must meet behavioral and academic standards to play. There are no skill level requirements for children to participate.
  • Take the Lead is a leadership development program for children from fifth to eighth grade who are alumni from the Work to Play program. These children serve as team captains on Work to Play teams, engaging with coaches to build leadership skills and focus on community service and academic goals.
  • Play with Potential is a recess program that is offered to all students in kindergarten through twelfth grade, focusing on teamwork and physical activity.

The programs have found success. According to Urban Initiatives, 96 percent of Work to Play participants play for at least 60 minutes, five days per week. One-hundred percent of Take the Lead captains are confident in their ability to lead younger teammates. And in the Play with Potential program, students are 45 percent more likely to perform moderate to vigorous physical activity than those at other schools.

A full staff of program associates and coordinators, in addition to volunteers and the management staff, works with the children to make the most of mentoring opportunities that take place in the programs.

For the mentors that make a difference in the lives of students, they are quick to acknowledge what they learn in the process. “It is the goal of Urban Initiatives coaches not just to be a mentor but to teach and train students to be mentors themselves, no matter how old they are and no matter the age of those they mentor,” Urban Initiatives program director Brendan McAlpine writes. “The Urban Initiatives team is proud and grateful to state that we have learned just as much from our students as we have taught them.”

Making Chicago a Better Place to Live

The aforementioned programs and initiatives embody the commitment that many have in helping those who are less fortunate or susceptible to certain social issues. Across crime, education, poverty and hunger, they are making a difference in Chicago communities where they serve.

One thing these initiatives have in common is the presence of social workers. These professionals organize programs, secure resources to help those in need and work alongside of other professionals to touch the lives of others. Hundreds of thousands of social workers can be found across America, changing the lives of those in need.

This article was written in conjunction with Aurora University Bachelor of Social Work Program.

Growing Number of Homeless Children is Shameful

A troubling new report released recently by the National Center on Family Homelessness at the American Institutes for Research documents the growing distress among the nation’s children. More children are sliding further into poverty and experiencing homelessness. Using data from the Department of Education and the Census Department—researchers led by Ellen Bassuk found that one in 30—or 2.5 million American children—were homeless at some point last year. That represents an eight percent increase nationally from 2012. They found child homelessness increased in 31 states and the District of Columbia and that the problem exists in every state, every city and every county in America. We know that outcomes for children experiencing homelessness are disastrous. We know that this growing problem does not get solved by the mothers of these children just doing the right thing.

Posters-on-the-Ground-03-685x438Childhood homelessness is a self-perpetuating cycle of despair. Many of the mothers of today’s homeless children were homeless when they were children. There are high rates of sexual and physical abuse among these mothers. Many were raised in unstable families which often moved from place to place disrupting any possibility of their getting adequate education. Before they realized what was happening, they found themselves advancing into adulthood with little or no skills and very little chance of finding meaningful employment. The men in their lives often left them battered, bruised and pregnant. And somehow they were expected to be responsible, caring mothers and provide for their children. The very people who would judge and condemn them most voraciously are the ones who would deny them family planning services.

Dr. Bassuk has been researching this problem for more than 25 years and still the problem not only persists but is growing according to this latest study. Back in 1988 she estimated that homeless families accounted for approximately one-third of the total homeless population. They now represent 37 percent of the homeless population and growing. Her research has documented that many mothers heading homeless families are overwhelmed by their circumstances. They suffer from high rates of post-traumatic symptoms, major depressive disorder, and high anxiety, greatly reducing their ability to provide proper parenting for their children.

Research has found that homeless children are four times as likely to develop respiratory infections and suffer with asthma as children in stable housing. They have limited access to quality food and nutrition, are often targets of neglect and abuse, live in neighborhoods where there is greater likelihood of being exposed to violence, are more likely to live in households with higher rates of divorce and substance abuse, experience social stigma, and have disrupted relationships with family, friends and teachers. In addition to suffering from a number of well-documented traumatic problems, children in homeless families are less likely to receive quality treatment for their problems as are children in stable housing. Homeless children often receive services in cramped, crowded and otherwise hostile environments, which reinforce the trauma and stigma they are already suffering.

One reason many children experience homelessness is due to the lack of cooperation between housing agencies and child welfare systems. Deborah S. Harburger, director of Fiscal Strategy at the University of Maryland’s School of Social Work’s Institute for Innovation and Implementation, in a 2004 article in Child Welfare, estimated about 30 percent of children in child welfare systems are there because of housing instability and that cooperation between the two systems could save about $1.94 billion annually and provide stable housing for thousands of displaced children.

The United States is the richest nation on the planet yet we rank 34th out of the richest 35 countries in child poverty. It is estimated that child poverty costs the nation $500 billion annually. Like most social problems, just rescuing these young victims will not solve the problem. More shelters and social services will barely keep them alive. What is needed is more long range planning to reduce poverty and prevent children from experiencing homelessness. We know what it takes to solve the problem of homeless children. The country needs an adequate supply of safe affordable housing—something the free market will not provide. Unless we as a society concede that some children are expendable, we need to do more to reduce current levels of homeless families with children and find ways to give every child a chance to succeed regardless of the circumstances in which they are born.

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