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22 July 2009 

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In US, Homelessness Grows as Families Join the Ranks

22 July 2009
The number of homeless families is on the rise across the United States.

A Homeless woman sitting in a park
A homeless woman sitting with her possessions on a sidewalk
One of the areas with the biggest increase is Washington D.C., the nation's capital.

Over the last year a regional government planning agency says the number of homeless families increased by 15 percent in the D.C. area, the biggest jump in years.

Many experts blame the nation's economic downturn as well as a local high cost of living.

The most visible of the homeless: older single men and women who refuse to stay in shelters. They pass the day in public parks and on street corners.

Single mother Monica Walker picks her children up at their Washington school. This family is among the fastest-growing group of the area's homeless.
Monica Walker and her four kids have been homeless for two years.Walker explains, "I had nowhere go, so I was declared homeless, nowhere for my kids to go and I needed help and I knew I needed help."

Monica Walker taking care of her kids
Monica Walker taking care of her kids
In 2007, Monica lost her job and her apartment to a drug addiction.

Now she has picked up the pieces and lives in one of Community of Hope's transitional apartments.

"I have something that I can call mine now. Even though it's transitional shelter but I can actually say to my kids, 'OK, let's go home,” exclaims Walker.

The local non-profit organization also helped get Monica treatment for her addiction. Soon, her family will move into their own three bedroom house in Washington.

"In a shelter, you can spend your money and you are broke and you are living basically day by day. This program helps you to live independently and shows you how you can save your money," declares Walker.

Kelly Sweeney-McShane is Executive Director of Community of Hope. She says, at any given time, there are 200 to 300 families ready to move into transitional housing.

The real solution, she says, is to provide permanent homes.  Sweeney-McShane explains, “When they are in those apartments, then they are much more open to getting assistance with whether there are mental health issues or their children have problems in school or substance abuse issues. But that's a better place to provide those services than in a group shelter."

Donna Matthews and her child in their apartment
Donna Matthews and her child in their apartment
Michael O'Rourke runs a homeless shelter in Arlington, Virginia, a Washington suburb that has seen a 25 percent increase in homeless families. There are 10 apartments here and he says local organization also provides residents here with courses that teach them how to live independently.  

O’Rourke says, "They move into our "adopt-a-family" program where the rent is subsidized for up to two years through HUD [Housing and Urban Development] grants, and they [the families] are able to accumulate some wealth and continue to develop the life skills, the business skills, the job skills they need to move into independence."

In Washington, Donna Matthews is considered one of the success stories. She and her son Jalen now live in a two bedroom apartment, subsidized by the D.C. organization.

Matthews humbly says, "Now I managed to have money saved up, my son is in private school. Today I am able to go to sleep and have food in my refrigerator. To me this is just like a palace, my palace and my son's palace."

Donna says she is on her to way to a new life. In September, she plans to study to become an event planner. She says she will never be homeless again.

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