Why People Become Homeless
The Emergency Shelter is just one component of this community's Housing Continuum of Care. Crisis housing, transitional housing and permanent housing all must exist in all Continua. Of course, in a more perfect community, an adequate supply of housing would be available for all persons of all economic levels.
Unfortunately, three fundamental causes contribute to homelessness in the world and in the Fox Cities:
Lack of affordable housing - In the Fox Cities, the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment is $663. In order to afford this level of rent and utilities, without paying more than 30% of income on housing, a household must earn $26,520 annually. Assuming a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks per year, this level of income translates into a Housing Wage of $12.75. It is estimated that 33% of renter households in the Fox Cities do not earn enough to rent a two bedroom apartment.
In Wisconsin, a minimum wage worker earns an hourly wage of $7.25. In order to afford the FMR for a two-bedroom apartment, a minimum wage earner must work 78 hours per week, 52 weeks per year. Monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments for an individual are $674 in Wisconsin. If SSI represents an individual's sole source of income, $202 in monthly rent is affordable, while the FMR for a one-bedroom in the Fox Cities is $534.
A unit is considered affordable if it costs no more than 30% of the renter's income.
Lagging incomes - incomes for the poorest Americans have not kept pace with rising housing costs. Minimum wage earnings no longer lift families above the poverty line.
Slashed services and Government Assistance - at the same time earned income for the poor is decreasing, assistance programs are being severely cut.
Today, more Americans are at risk of homelessness than ever before in our history. The number of persons living in poverty is shameful for a nation with our resources and ability. A missed paycheck, a health crisis or an unpaid bill pushes poor families over the edge into homelessness. The Homeless population does not have one face.
The majority of the 47 million Americans without health insurance earn low incomes and are less likely to weather an economic crisis resulting from prolonged illness. Homeless people are twice as likely as the general population to have chronic health problems but are less likely to have adequate health care.
Additionally, the under-resourced substance abuse programs prevent thousands of low-income individuals from receiving treatment. Deinstitutionalized persons who hit the streets in the 60's and 70's have fewer than 800 of the planned 2000 federally supported facilities from which to access services.
What Can Be Done
Homelessness is preventable. We must work together to ensure that an adequate supply of affordable housing exists in our community. We must ensure that men and women can earn enough to meet their basic needs. We must ensure that access to social services including health care, child care, mental health care and substance abuse treatment is available and accessible to those in need.
We can all be proud of the quality of life we enjoy in the Fox Valley which exists because of the multitude of exceptional programs and resources this community offers, ranging from the Performing Arts Center to the Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley. It is the full spectrum of services that make this community a wonderful place to live.
The Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley provides an important safety net for the community. Many of us can't conceive of ever needing the services of an emergency shelter, but then many of those we serve thought the same thing. Given the right set of circumstances or misfortunes, the Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley may end up serving a neighbor, a relative, or an employee.
Many within the community aren't even aware that there are homeless families or individuals within the Fox Valley. This perception is partially driven because the Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley provides a place for those in need to go, and because of the Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley's progressive programs that help those in need to develop skills to keep from becoming homeless in the future.
The Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley maintains a low rate of repeat clients compared to other shelters. The Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley's proactive Prevention Program is designed to help those who are on the verge of becoming homeless. We have demonstrated that for 98% of those at risk of housing loss, we can successfully assist them to maintain their housing.
The Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley is a very effective service organization focused on partnering with all service providers to meet the needs of homeless people or those at risk of being homeless while being good stewards of the Community's resources and the financial support we receive. Without the Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley to provide a safety net, we would see a greater population of homeless people on our streets, higher police and other crisis service support costs, not to mention the human impact on those who become homeless.
To understand some of the issues surrounding homelessness please read the narratives of Lynn, Wally, Todd, and Joe & Maria.