Harper was only four months old and had never known a steady place to sleep. Having been born while his mom was staying in a community homeless shelter, Harper had spent his life sleeping in various shelters. He had no bed to call his own. Neither did his mom, and at age 23, she never had. Mary grew up in foster care, and spent her childhood in over 40 different homes. Like too many children, she aged out of the system without a family, home, or adequate skills to make it on her own. She began her adult life sleeping in tents and other dangerous environments until learning she was pregnant. Mary and Harper came to Family Promise with a couple bags of clothing and a doubtful spirit. She had never experienced stability, making it a challenge for her to live independently, but it was clear she loved her son and was determined to provide a life for him. A life she’d always dreamed of for her family.
Unfortunately, Harper’s story is not uncommon.
Homeless children in families comprise the fastest growing group of homeless persons in the United States. In fact, the average age of a homeless person in the United States is just nine years old. According to a study by the National Center on Family Homelessness, one in every 30 children – about 2.5 million – experience homelessness every year. Right here in Summit County, there are an overwhelming number of families with children homeless and awaiting shelter.
Family homelessness is a well-recognized and growing problem in Summit County. According to most recent statistics, more than 300 families are homeless in the Greater Akron area annually. This reflects a 12% increase from 2010, a 25% increase from 2009, and a 28% increase from 2008. Furthermore, research reflects a high correlation between homelessness and poverty. Local statistics show a steady increase in poverty rates in Akron, Northeast Ohio, and the state. According to the most recent census, approximately 15.3% of Summit County residents (or 81,629 individuals) live below the poverty level. The City of Akron’s poverty levels are far higher, where nearly 30% of residents are indigent. In the last decade, the state’s overall rate of poverty increased from 10.6% to 15.2%.
The need for Family Promise’s services is perhaps greatest among local children and youth. Where poverty rates look dire pertaining to the general population, they are even more startling when applied to our kids. The most recent poverty rate for children in Summit County was 22.6%. For the City of Akron, it was 44.9%. This means nearly half of local urban youth are living below the poverty level. The odds of these young people becoming homeless at some point in their lives are high and ever increasing.
Children, like Harper, experiencing homelessness are among the most invisible and neglected individuals in our society. They have lost the safety and comfort of home; if they ever knew it. Homelessness can create a life-altering experience that leaves profound and lasting scars. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Family Promise is committed to ensuring these children and their families obtain a sustainable home and all that a home means for a strong family.
Family Promise is the only program in Summit County that serves families with children experiencing homelessness, 24 hours a day, keeping the family unit intact. “Family” is not defined by Family Promise, meaning children and their loved ones can stay together despite traditional and non-traditional labels. Our day center even includes a pet kennel to keep the entire ‘family’ together.
But we can’t do it alone. We need your help.
Your support allows us to fulfill our goal of one day providing service and lodging to every homeless family in Summit County at their time of need.