NORMAN — More children are homeless today in Cleveland County than were homeless last year according to recent counts by school and city officials.
“Families are our largest population,” said Food and Shelter for Friends Executive Director April Doshier. “We’re seeing more families homeless for the first time than ever before. What that means is there are moms and children with no place to go. That group, of course, is our top priority.”
Families living paycheck to paycheck often cannot survive a major life crisis such as job loss, illness, or divorce and that can mean children end up homeless.
“We see working families who are doing everything they can to make ends meet. Many single-parent households lack enough funds to pay rent and support their families,” Doshier said.
She believes children are powerfully impacted by homelessness with the reactions varying depending on the age and personality of the child.
“I think young children tend to be very confused about why they have no home,” Doshier said. “Older children tend to take on responsibility on how to fix this. Both of those experiences are very traumatic for children.”
Not having a secure place to lay their heads at night is only one of the challenges faced by homeless children.
“Children who become homeless miss a lot of school,” Doshier said. “They have a lot of health issues. They have behavioral issues.”
The new national trend toward homelessness prevention and rapid rehousing is geared to help protect children during this very formative time.
“The best thing we can do for them is make their experience with homelessness as short as possible,” Doshier said.
Some families camp at the river or rent motel rooms by the day. Even those who are “couch surfing” — staying with a friend or a relative — are under stress because those situations can be “very temporary,” she said.
Doshier said staying with friends and family is less stable than a shelter situation because those arrangements “can end at any minute.”
“Our shelter is specially designated for families,” she said.
New programs assisted by federal grants provide more comprehensive solutions for homeless families.
“It’s not just money and ‘Good luck’,” she said. “We’re taking families and fully assessing their needs and case management to work toward stability in the long term.”