The increase in homelessness amongst families is one of the most troubling legacies of the Great Recession.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2009 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress noted that family homelessness nation-wide was up for the second straight year, increasing by 30% between 2007 and 2009. In the Allentown/Northeast PA Continuum of Care, the Point-in-Time Count facilitated by the Regional Homeless Advisory Board and the Lehigh Valley Conference of Church in cooperation with 64 homeless assistance programs and shelters determined that on the night of January 27, 2010, 66% of the total people who were homeless were part of families without a place to call home. According to the aforementioned HUD report, 6 in 10 persons in families who face homelessness come from a “housed situation.” One-third were staying with family, which illustrates the growing trend of families being forced to “double up” with relatives to avoid homelessness. HUD estimates that there was a 25% increase in “movers who joined existing households” between 2005 and 2009, while the Pew Research Center noted that between 1980 and 2008 there was a 33% increase in households made up of at least two adults from different generations. This trend was recently featured in the New York Times.

Each year the Lehigh Valley Coalition on Affordable Housing conducts a census of the homeless families and individuals sheltered in the two-county region of Lehigh and Northampton, Pennsylvania. According to the 2009 Lehigh Valley Shelter Census, 2,509 men, women, and children were housed in area shelters. Of those, 872 (34.8% of the residents in the shelters) were children, with those under the age of 5 representing 48.7% of the total number of children. 14.6% of the adults were employed (19% of shelter residents who were head of household were working to support their families) and 66.2% of adults had attained at least a high school diploma, GED, or post-secondary schooling.

CACLV finds these statistics unacceptable, which is why we jumped at the recent opportunity to expand our Sixth Street Shelter program by purchasing the blighted building adjoining it.  Even though we recently completed a $730,000 renovation of our existing shelter facility, we cannot rest when so many people in our community do not have a place to call home or hope for the future.

Since 1984, the Sixth Street Shelter has provided an essential service to the community as a place for homeless families to find a temporary home and help in preparing for the challenges of a difficult job and rental market. For most families, the 60-day stay enables them to begin to stabilize their income and address the problems that led to their homelessness. Families are expected to learn how to look for appropriate, safe, affordable housing, and to begin the search for such housing as early in their stay as possible. Each year we help approximately 100 families with 250 children.

CACLV’s intention is to construct five additional apartments for the program, which would allow the Shelter to help an added 30 or more families per year who are in desperate need of the opportunity to turn their lives around. It would also significantly shorten the amount of time families are forced to wait before they can get into the program.

Fundraising and planning now begin in earnest for the expansion project and we are looking forward to the challenge. You can follow our progress and find out how to get involved on our Facebook page.