We can do better as a community, and I am hopeful that we will work together on this issue to create more housing opportunities for families living with modest incomes.
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's high rate of home foreclosures is placing children at a greater risk of homelessness, a new national report has found.
The report, “America's Youngest Outcasts 2010,” compared states according to a number of measurements that can contribute to child homelessness or contribute to their well-being. Utah ranked 27th nationwide.
In the category of home foreclosure ranks — the Beehive State ranked 45th, with 1 being best and 50 being worst.
In other measurements, however, Utah ranked sixth for child well being for relatively low rates of chronic illness, learning disabilities and low rates of "very low food security."
Yet the state ranked 43rd in terms of the extent of child homelessness. The report, created for the nonprofit National Center on Family Homelessness, said nearly 30,000 Utah children were considered homeless.
Utah's composite score has slightly improved since 2006, when it ranked 37th overall. It improved to 24th in 2007 but climbed to 27th in 2010.
Matthew Minkevitch, executive director of The Road Home, which houses and provides intensive case management for the homeless families and individuals in the Salt Lake Valley, said the report's findings suggest the state has much more work to do on behalf of homeless children.
"I hope that we can regain some of the momentum that we had generated in years past, in order to address this emergent need. We can do better as a community, and I am hopeful that we will work together on this issue to create more housing opportunities for families living with modest incomes," he said.
While Utah is in the midst of a 10-year comprehensive statewide plan to better serve homeless families and individuals — primarily through a strategy that moves them into permanent housing as soon as possible and then surrounds them with needed services — the report ranked the state 34th for its policy and planning efforts. Utah's strategy and practices, in recent years, has won positive acclaim from leaders in the national government and nonprofit organizations.
Minkevitch said he was unclear what time period the report had evaluated but in recent years, public-private partnerships in Utah have been highly effective in reducing chronic homelessness and increasing shelter capacity.
"Now we need to take our collaboration to the next level," Minkevitch said.
"Hundreds of families in need are counting on us, and I have faith that our community will rise to meet the need."
Homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson said many agencies and nonprofits define homelessness differently. For instance, one education report considers a child as homeless if they are doubling up in a single-family residence.
Doubling up in a house is hardly ideal and can pose risks to children but not to the degree of a family living out of car, which was the condition of a family Atkinson met recently. The family was not aware there is room in the emergency shelter system.
"We quickly got them into shelter, " she said.
Because both parents were employed, they readily qualified for a federal program that provides funding for rapid rehousing, she said.
Homeless children experience fewer long-term impacts academically and behaviorally the sooner their families are placed in permanent supportive housing, Atkinson said.
Sometimes, a very small event can push a family over the edge financially. Instead of using the rent money to pay rent, part of it may go to buy groceries during a lean month. "When you're using the rent money to buy groceries, it means you may not be in a position to pay it back," she said.
Atkinson said providing food or cash donations to the Utah Food Bank or local food pantries can go a long way to prevent homelessness because it give a little cushion to families struggling to make ends meet. "When people give a bag of groceries, they're helping to prevent homelessness," she said.
According to the report, 1.6 million American children, or one in 45, are homeless in a year. Children who experience homelessness suffer from hunger, poor physical and emotional health and missed educational opportunities.
"Not surprisingly, the risks for child homelessness — such as extreme poverty and worst case housing needs — have worsened with the economic recession, even though the total housing capacity for families increased by more than 15,000 units in the past four years, primarily due to the federal Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program," the report said.
The complete report, which can be found at www.homelesschildrenamerica.org, documents the numbers of homeless children in every state, their well-being, the risk for child homelessness, and state level planning and policy activities.
The 2010 report is an update to a previous analysis by The National Center on Family Homelessness titled "America’s Youngest Outcasts: State Report Card on Child Homelessness."
COMPOSITE SCORES (1= Best, 50=Worst)
UTAH - 27
Top Composite Scores
4. North Dakota
6. New Hampshire
7. New Jersey
Bottom Composite Scores
45. New Mexico