Across the State of Colorado, there are over 23,000 children and youth experiencing homelessness, according to a 2017-2018 report by the Colorado Department of Education. Although we often think homelessness means people living on the street, that is only true for less than one-fifth of people experiencing homelessness. Most children and youth without a stable, safe place to live transition among different settings, including short-stay motels, doubling-up with friends or family members, sleeping in cars, or in transitional housing or shelters.
The experience of homelessness puts children and their families in situations where they are at greater risk of additional traumatic encounters such as assault, witnessing violence, child abuse, food insecurity and substance abuse. Children in particular are most impacted by the traumatic effects of experiencing homelessness, as these adverse conditions often result in development delays, mental health issues and chronic health conditions.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network examines the ways that children bear the brunt of homelessness, noting that they are sick at twice the rate of other children and go hungry twice as often as children not experiencing homelessness. Additionally, half of school-age children experiencing homelessness face anxiety, depression or withdrawal. Even more unsettling is the fact that by the time children experiencing homelessness are eight years old, one in three has a major mental disorder.
One Colorado organization working to address the interrelated nature of housing instability and other forms of trauma is Family Tree, a nonprofit human services agency providing innovative, life-changing services designed to end child abuse, domestic violence, and homelessness.
“Experiencing homelessness is particularly disruptive to a child’s education because they are constantly dealing with stigmatization and the stress of not knowing where they’re going to sleep or when their next meal might be,” said Scott Shields, CEO of Family Tree. “When families experiencing homelessness come to us for help, we connect them to programs that offer more than just housing assistance so that the children are provided with the critical resources needed to address their trauma and avoid repeating cycles of poverty across generations.”
An example of this is Family Tree’s Homelessness Program, which provides housing navigation and placement services, comprehensive case management, education and employment services, along with connections to various resources to assist those experiencing homelessness or those at-risk of homelessness.
Additionally, Family Tree’s House of Hope is dedicated to providing safe shelter and supportive services for women with children experiencing homelessness. These families, overwhelmed with the daily struggle of where to stay the night and find their next meal, find a safe place to stay while they begin to get back on their feet.
Another program we’ve been following is Family Tree’s GOALS Program, a Two-Generation (2Gen) housing program for families experiencing homelessness from Aurora and Arapahoe County. While this program is relatively new, it is designed to help stabilize families experiencing homelessness, empowering them to move from poverty and homelessness by focusing on services and opportunities that address the needs of all family members.
“With the GOALS program, we’re focused on empowering families experiencing crisis and trauma to improve their lives and achieve economic independence through proven, integrated services,” continued Shields. “The most important thing we can do is help these families overcome barriers and better position their children for future success.”
To learn more about Family Tree and their work to transform our community through innovative and integrated services, visit www.thefamilytree.org.