Usually #TBT, or Throwback Thursday, refers to the posting of old pictures, like this one of a 2004 Memo about child-care services for families in EA shelter:
But for the purpose of this post, we are throwing back to September 16th, just two weeks ago. That is when we joined our allies, Horizons for Homeless Children, on a panel in front of the Joint Committee on Education in support of Senate Bill 286: An Act providing immediate childcare assistance to homeless families.
(also full disclosure that we are copying this #TBT to this particular hearing idea directly from Horizon’s Facebook page)
It was an honor to give testimony on this important bill, especially after Visioning Day participants voted access to childcare as the number one policy issue that we should raise our collective voice for to end family homelessness.
Homes for Families was represented by Libby Hayes, executive director, and Gabrielle, board co-chair. We joined Horizon’s staff Emily Levine, director of policy and advocacy, and Megan Teixeira, director of quality assurance.
Emily and Megan provided background on the bill, the challenges of the current system and the opportunities this bill would create. Gabrielle spoke about the impact childcare had on her family and her success on her journey from homelessness to a leader in the field.
And here is the text of Homes for Families’ testimony:
Thank you members of the Committee. Homes for Families is here today to give testimony in support of Senate Bill 286: An Act providing immediate childcare assistance to homeless families, sponsored by Senator Dorcena Forry.
Each summer, Homes for Families convenes families, shelter providers and other stakeholders for our annual Visioning Day event. This year we had over 340 participants, with over 100 children. At the event, participants vote on the resources and issues they feel are most important to address homelessness. The number one priority identified for more funding is – once again – housing subsidies, but the number one policy issue that families and providers identified is… access to childcare.
As a former shelter director, I can attest that families in shelters are mandated to have a service plan which consists of at least 30 hours per week of activities towards housing and economic stability. This often involves education and training; employment; budgeting workshops; parenting classes, negotiating with past landlords and utility companies; support groups to overcome any traumas and barriers; gathering paperwork; applying for affordable housing; searching for available units; negotiating with potential landlords; mandated case manager meetings; mandated housing search meetings; and mandated house meetings. Families who are homeless must comply with shelter rules, navigate complicated eligibility regulations and bureaucracies, and adjust to new communities. These are the expectations we, as a Commonwealth, put on families who are homeless. Childcare is critical for families to be able to meet these mandates.
Any move is traumatic for children, but especially when due to domestic violence, no fault evictions, loss of income, threats to health and safety. The number one priority of any parent in the shelter system is the safety, care and protection of their children. Why else would any family face the scrutiny, the shaming, and the loss of freedom, the challenge of living in a motel, or in shared space with strangers? However, when survival, safety, and protection are the priority, the focus on education and development can sometimes take a backseat or be hindered.
- Would you let your child crawl around on the floor in a moldy budget motel room?
- Does the mother who is being abused have a chance to read bedtime stories?
- Does a child who has to carry their belongings from house to house before their family is determined eligible for shelter have toys to help develop their fine motor and language skills?
If we want to break the cycle of poverty, end homelessness, leave no child behind, and address the achievement gap, we must provide all children with an opportunity to be prepared for school. Children who are homeless face additional barriers to their development and learning – from the trauma and stress to the conditions in their surroundings. Early childhood education and care, for this sub-population of the Commonwealth’s children, is vital.
We have over 1,260 families in motels because shelters are full. We, as a Commonwealth, should be doing everything in our power to find ways to support families to overcome homelessness as quickly as possible. Childcare is key so that parents can do all they need to do to move out of shelter. Early childhood education is key so that children who are homeless today can have every chance to be as successful as every other child in Massachusetts. This bill is key in reducing inefficiencies and opening the door for children and parents alike.
It should be noted, highlighted and underlined that Gabi’s testimony had an incredible impact. It truly is the voice, the stories, the strength, and the tribulations of families who have experienced homelessness that help policy makers understand the significance of the bills and the line items in front of them.
Thank you Gabi, and thank you to Horizons for Homeless Children for your leadership in ensuring access to to child care for families overcoming homelessness.
PS: here is a link to a story and radio clip that features a family living in a motel. The story mentions the high cost of childcare as a barrier to their housing stability.