Most people know that homelessness exists, but for many, the issue seems distant.
1. The numbers
In Chester County, 1,232 people entered the shelter system in 2016. Among them, 994 experienced homelessness for the first time. Out of 1,002 individuals who stayed in an individual shelter or a family shelter, 451 were female. 240 were children (Source: Decade to Doorways).
What this number doesn’t capture are the hundreds of women and mothers who are moving from couch to couch. They are staying at a friend’s or family member’s place or living in their car.
2. Not enough to pay rent despite working full-time
Making a living in Chester County can be especially difficult for single mothers. The cost of living is extremely high and ranks 72% above the U.S. average. Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,211. To afford this without paying more than 30% of income on housing – a household must earn $48,400 per year. For example, the average income for a woman working in healthcare services, personal care or food services is $27,640 (Source: U.S. Census Bureau). Despite working full-time, many make barely enough to pay their rent. This leaves no room to save for emergencies. In times of crisis, there is nothing to fall back on. A broken car, sudden job loss or sickness can bring them to the brink of homelessness in as little as 30 days.
3. Devastating long-term impact
An eviction can happen quickly, but the long-term effects are devastating. While most women who are experiencing homelessness are working, it is almost impossible to succeed professionally without a safe home, a shower and a bed. The constant stress connected to not having a home makes it nearly impossible to think about the future.
In addition, being without a home has a severe negative impact on a person’s mental and physical health. This may lead to chronic health issues and other problems. A child who experienced homelessness is three times more likely to develop behavioral problems. It is four times more likely to show delayed development.
4. The cost
Homelessness does not only have negative effects on the individuals who are experiencing it. The People’s Emergency Center estimates that services for a child in homelessness in Pennsylvania cost on average $40.235 per year. In comparison, services for a child who is not homeless cost on average $6.419.
The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimated that a person in homelessness costs the government approximately $40.000 in emergency services per year. In comparison, according to the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, it would cost as little as $10,000 to provide save, permanent housing for a person for one year.
5. The solution
Key interventions such as Eviction Prevention, Shared Housing or Supportive Housing can prevent homelessness before it occurs. These tools stabilize a family in the long-term, preventing the trauma and economic downward spiral connected to homelessness.
Homelessness prevention is the right thing to do
As a community, investing in prevention is the right decision for many reasons. It will save critical funds, reduce trauma connected to homelessness and improve the mental and physical health of so many residents. That’s not all. Ensuring that all women and children have a chance to succeed in life will make our community, better and stronger.
To help women and children who are facing or experiencing homelessness in Chester County, click here to donate to Home of the Sparrow.
This article was written by Dana Pilotti and Sophie Tentrop.