Survey: Homelessness Hitting Women, Children Hardest

High fuel and food prices, economic turmoil, and foreclosures are leading more families into homeless and hitting single women with children harder than any other group, according to a recent survey of homeless people.

Women with children made up 66 percent of the homeless families counted in the survey conducted last month by the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (AGRM) – a jump from 55 percent in 2007 and the highest figure recorded by the 270-group association in the last eight years.

Other families that AGRM found were coming to missions for assistance comprised much smaller percentages – couples (15 percent), intact families (14 percent), and single men with children (5 percent).

"Our mission's family residential program has seen an unprecedented demand from families where neither parent has a noted need for drug or alcohol recovery services," Burt Rosen, executive director at the Knox Area Rescue Mission in Knoxville, Tenn., further reported. "They are displaced because of loss of job or home and just need help getting back on their feet."

Food banks and shelters across the country are seeing higher demand for their services. With more people feeling the weight of the economic downturn, those who oversee the charities say they are seeing many new faces on food lines.

"We've got 325 beds available, and our mission is always full," reported John Anderson, president/CEO of the Bay Area Rescue Mission in Richmond, Calif. "In September, we turned away more than 1,100 individuals, mostly women with children. We just didn't have room for them. Our turn-aways have jumped more than 400 percent from the same month last year. The increase began in mid-July and has been steadily growing ever since."

A study done by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimates that 3.5 million people are likely to experience homelessness in a given year. This translates to approximately 1 percent of the U.S. population experiencing homelessness each year – 39 percent of them (1.3 million) being children.

And it is recession-induced layoffs and bank foreclosures on rental properties – a traditional housing option for lower-income individuals – that sometimes leave people homeless through no fault of their own, noted John Ashmen, executive director of AGRM.

"In these tough economic times, homelessness may be becoming a suburban issue, not just a skid-row issue," he said in an AGRM report earlier this month.

The recent AGRM survey, completed in October at 137 rescue missions across North America, found that Caucasians made up 46 percent of those served, African-Americans 35 percent, Hispanics 11 percent, Native Americans 5 percent and Asians 2 percent.

Those 46 to 65 years of age made up the largest segment of the sample (31 percent), followed by people 36 to 45 years (26 percent), 26 to 35 years (18 percent), children under age 18 (12 percent), 18 to 25 years (9 percent) and those older than 65 (4 percent).

In general, people responding to the survey come to the mission daily for help (77 percent), and were residents of the community in which they received service (73 percent). Most had been homeless less than one year (60 percent), had never before been homeless (33 percent) or had been homeless only once previously (24 percent).

"With so much additional need, now is the time for Americans to help," AGRM executive director Ashmen urged. "Even a small donation will mean a lot to organizations on the front lines of the economic downturn."

AGRM has conducted their annual "Snapshot Survey of the Homeless" for the past 20 years and represents roughly 270 rescue missions in communities across North America. Last year, AGRM member ministries served more than 42 million meals, provided 15 million nights of lodging, distributed more than 27 million pieces of clothing and graduated 18,000 homeless men and women into productive living.

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