(March, 10, 2016) – The Denver Post published an investigative article (Trying to Live, Trying to Learn: Homelessness on the Rise by Jennifer Brown). The article can be viewed here. This article sheds light on the physical, psychological and emotional effects of homelessness on school-aged children. Without stable housing, nutritious food, clean clothing and transportation, homeless children are frequently absent from school, transfer schools, perform more poorly on tests, are left back and have low graduation rates. The consequence of these devastating educational outcomes is that low levels of educational attainment and poverty are strongly correlated.[i] As a result, poverty and homelessness are often cyclical and experienced by multiple generations of children without housing stability.[ii]
At Warren Village, we apply a “two generation” approach to break cyclical poverty and homelessness by focusing on creating opportunities for and addressing the needs of both vulnerable parents and children at the same time.[iii]
As the article depicts, a typical sheltered homeless family is comprised of a single mother with two children.[iv] While education is proven to be a pathway out of poverty (only ten percent of those with a bachelor’s degree are poor)[v], postsecondary education and skills training are often out of reach for low-income, single mothers.[vi] As a result, working single mothers tend to have jobs in lower-wage, lower-skill fields that do not provide benefits such as health insurance, paid sick leave or even wage protections.
In Colorado, 43 percent of women in female-headed, low-income working families had no post-secondary education, considerably reducing their earning power.[vii] This is significant because a parents’ level of educational attainment is the best predictor of economic mobility for their child.[viii] Early indications from emerging “two-generation” approaches highlight the importance of “mutual motivation” when both parents and children have access to opportunities.[ix] However, barriers such as childcare, transportation, tuition costs and class schedules that conflict with work hours often impede low-income mothers from being able to obtain postsecondary education.[x]
At Warren Village, we understand that homelessness and poverty have far-reaching impacts. For many homeless single parent families, obtaining postsecondary education in order to make a livable wage is out of reach. For children experiencing homelessness, academic success and the ability to be self-sufficient in the future is uncertain. That’s why Warren Village is dedicated to helping low-income, single parent families obtain affordable housing, quality child care, support services and on-site college courses. Single parents like Serena sought Warren Village’s services to provide the structure for her and her son to succeed.
Serena considered herself homeless for a long time because she has never really had any place that she could call her own. At the age of nine, as a result her mom’s struggle with alcoholism, Serena lived in shelters and attended four different schools during fourth grade. When her mom was arrested for theft and drug possession, Serena and her younger sister were placed in foster care where she eventually aged out the system and was back to a constantly shifting environment.
All of this changed once Serena moved into Warren Village. A steady place to call ‘home,’ child care for her son, and (most importantly of all) a supportive environment designed to enable them both in their personal growth were all available and waiting.. In a stable environment, Serena was able to grow and explore interests and areas previously unavailable to her. Serena has now moved out of Warren Village, has completed an associate’s degree and continues to attend school while working part-time.
We also acknowledge the clear link between an individual’s level of education and his or her annual earnings. In response, Warren Village launched a new College to Career program – part of our larger Workforce Development Initiative – with the aim of preparing our residents to attain more career advancement opportunities and earn better wages. The program encompasses a partnership with the Community College of Denver that brings college certificate program courses on-site for residents and alumni. On-site classes are extremely important as they allow us to reduce the barriers that have prevented our parents from achieving a post-secondary degree already. They also allow the children of Warren Village to see their parents working hard to achieve additional education to advance their careers. It is an incredible motivator for our kids – creating a multiplier effect for future success.
Warren Village addresses the fact that high quality early care and education improves the health and developmental outcomes for children in poverty and has a positive impact on their school readiness skills. That’s why we make sure each child who comes through our Greta Horwitz Learning Center receives a quality education, is challenged to meet developmental benchmarks, and develops a love of learning.
Warren Village’s support services are the heart of our program. The parents and children in our program have endured tremendous adversity and trauma. Our support services team help the single parents and children envision a future with economic security, a good job, and a stable home environment – and then provide them the tools they need to steadily work towards those dreams. It breaks my heart to think of the more than 23,000 students in Colorado that are homeless – trying to make it through school after sleeping on the floor or in the backseat of their car. It really bothers me that even while we have identified ways to break cyclical poverty and homelessness, we have not addressed those issues in a significant way as a community. The Post article was an amazing way to shed light on a problem we too often try to avoid thinking about. It’s time to ensure that single parents and their children have their basic needs met, so they can build the capacity for higher earning power and ultimately self-sufficiency.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we didn’t hear about homeless children because there weren’t any, rather than because we refused to look at the hard, cold truth about families without the means to support themselves? Let me know what you think about this.
[i] The Aspen Intitute. (2012). Two Generations, One Future: Moving Parents and Children Beyond Poverty Together. Retrieved from http://www.aspeninstitute.org/sites/default/files/content/docs/ascend/Ascend-Report-022012.pdf
[iv] The National Center on Family Homelessness. (2011). The Characteristics and Needs of Families Experiencing Homelessness. Retrieved from http://www.familyhomelessness.org/facts.php?p=tm
[v] The Aspen Intitute. (2012). Two Generations, One Future: Moving Parents and Children Beyond Poverty Together. Retrieved from http://www.aspeninstitute.org/sites/default/files/content/docs/ascend/Ascend-Report-022012.pdf
[vi] The Working Poor Families Project. (2013-2014). Low-Income Working Mothers and State Policy: Investing for a Better Economic Future. Retrieved from www.workingpoorfamilies.org/…/WPFP_Low-Income-Working-Mother
[viii] The Aspen Intitute. (2012). Two Generations, One Future: Moving Parents and Children Beyond Poverty Together. Retrieved from http://www.aspeninstitute.org/sites/default/files/content/docs/ascend/Ascend-Report-022012.pdf
[x] Sara Goldrick-Rab and Kia Sorensen, Unmarried Parents in College: Pathways to Success, (University of Wisconsin-Madison: Institute for Research on Poverty, March 2011) page 3.