Raising the Visibility of Family Homelessness in Washington State

1/19/2011 7:00:00 PM

One of the foundation’s priorities in Washington state is reducing homelessness among families with children. The notion of family homelessness is slowly becoming more familiar to many Americans in today’s difficult economic times. And yet, when I tell people that I work on this initiative, more often than not they think of the more visible faces of homelessness they see every day—people standing at highway on-ramps, or those who sleep under bridges or on park benches.

Many people still have a hard time picturing what homeless families look like, and for some it’s hard to believe that almost half of the homeless people in Washington at any one time are families with kids.

These are the invisible faces of homelessness: parents and children “doubling up” with family or friends, living out of their cars or in motel rooms, or moving in and out of shelters. They are all trying to maintain some school stability for their children, despite the constant movement and disruption. Recently, the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction identified nearly 22,000 homeless children attending public schools in Washington state.

We’re working with Building Changes and partners in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties to give these families the support they need to get back on their feet. These efforts focus on prevention and connecting families to housing, employment, and education opportunities.

Additionally, to shed light to these invisible faces, as well as on the progress our partners are making, our program officer Kollin Min provided a grant to Seattle University to create a journalism fellowship program focused on family homelessness. Six journalists and eight Seattle University student interns were selected. The stories these journalists told were powerful, poignant reminders of the struggles these families face.

The Seattle Times collaborated with its online media partners to create a multipart series called “Invisible Families,” which examined a range of issues—from homeless mothers and children living in their car, to families living in tent cities, to homeless refugees and fathers and the amazing work being done by organizations throughout Puget Sound. In addition, PBS “NewsHour” showed us the difficulties that homeless children face in trying to enroll and complete school. Their segment can be viewed below.

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