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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Up the Down Staircase: A Look at Family Homelessness in New Jersey
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In response to the increasing numbers of homeless families, Homes for the Homeless surveyed families in emergency shelters in Newark (New Jersey) to gain some insights into the characteristics and circumstances of urban homeless families. Newark was chosen because it is a large urban center with a high concentration of welfare recipients that is currently undergoing economic revitalization. Findings show that the typical homeless family in Newark consists of a 32-year-old singer African American female, with two children averaging 8 years of age. There is a 50% chance that she did not graduate from high school, has received welfare, and has been homeless more than once. In all likelihood, she is currently unemployed. However, almost half of the homeless families never received welfare, and 14% received it for less than 1 year. In addition, many parents have a strong work history. Twenty percent are currently employed, and virtually all held a long-term job at some point. Many of Newark’s homeless families are low-income working poor. The primary reasons families cite for becoming homeless are doubled-up and tripled-up living situations (overcrowding or disagreements). Another 25% report being unable to pay rent, heading directly to a shelter for assistance. Findings demonstrate that family homelessness in Newark is at a critical stage. It is recommended that current welfare policies leading to overcrowded living situations must be changed, and additional forms of housing assistance must be provided in order to prevent the working poor from traveling “up the down staircase.” (Homes for the Homeless)
New York, NY