This entry originally appeared as an Orlando Sentinel “My Word” column on March 9, 2011.
The story featured four families who’ve become homeless over the past year, as well as many children who eloquently described the pain of losing their homes, doubling up with siblings to sleep in cars and bathing in public restrooms.
Sadly, the story illustrates what we at the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness and Heart of Florida United Way have been talking about for some time. Families with children − including many in the middle class who’ve never needed help before – represent the growing face of homelessness.
Due to the economic crisis, thousands of residents have lost jobs, homes, savings and everything they’ve worked a lifetime to achieve. They want to work, but jobs − particularly those that pay a living wage – are just not returning quickly enough.
While we know that the number of homeless families has increased 30% over the past three years, what we can’t measure is the terrible, hidden toll the crisis is taking on children who are in their most impressionable, formative years.
One child featured in the segment described the difficulty of doing homework by the overhead light of the car. Others talked about waking up at night with hunger pains and hiding their shame and embarrassment from classmates.
Jacob Braverman, a Seminole County student, said he used to be a talkative, outgoing kid. That all changed the day he got home from school and the door was locked, their home foreclosed. Now living together with his mother and brother in a single room provided by kindhearted neighbors, he tries to be invisible lest they wear out their welcome. “…I’ve gotten very mature in a very short amount of time,” he said.
According to experts, the poverty rate for children in America is fast approaching 25%, making this the largest generation to be raised in hard times since the Great Depression. In our tri-county region alone, nearly 6,000 children are homeless, including more than 3,000 in Orange County and nearly 1,500 each in Seminole and Osceola counties.
As local unemployment remains above 11% and another wave of foreclosures is expected this year, even more local children are likely to join what is unfortunately becoming known as the “Motel Generation.”
For these reasons and more, the Commission, in conjunction with United Way, recently launched the Homeless Children and Families Emergency Fund, which provides short-term housing assistance to families with minor children who are homeless or about to become so.
While this is not a silver bullet, it is one compassionate way our community can reach out and help stem this tragic tide. Others include donating time, goods and services to organizations serving the homeless. For a list, visit www.hfuw.org or to donate to the Emergency Family Fund, visit www.cfhomelesscommission.org.
Managing Chair, Central Florida Commission on Homelessness and Chair, Council on Investing in Results, Heart of Florida United Way and Chairman, Central Florida Board of Seaside National Bank & Trust