The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last month finalized the federal definition of homelessness. The new definition reflects changing times. Now households that have more than one family living under the same roof are eligible for more assistance from the federally funded programs. Monte Hawver is the executive director for Kodiak’s Brother Francis Shelter. He says the change is especially beneficial for homeless children.
"If we have a family that’s moved in with another family- which has been going on in Kodiak- while they might not be literally on-the-street-homeless, they are considered homeless. The reality of it is, while they may not be living on the street it is a very poor situation to raise families in. Say for instance a thousand or 800 square foot Aleutian home with two families living in it- maybe five, six, seven kids and four adults. That’s not a good situation. It’s not a healthy way to live."
However, other changes aren’t as favorable. Hawver says now a family must be living at 30 percent or less of the federal poverty level to qualify for emergency assistance. Before, a family qualified at 50 percent of the poverty level. Also, the Fair Market Rent for Kodiak went down, despite increasing rents on the island. Hawver says both of these changes will make it more difficult for the Brother Francis Shelter to help struggling families.
"The main thing is that we don’t want any families living in tents on hillsides or in cars or anything like that. We’re blessed as a community having rid ourselves of that, including camps where families were living at the end of Shelikof and all that. We’ve eliminated that in Kodiak and we want to be able to hold that line. It’s difficult. It’s more difficult this year than ever, I’ll tell you that. More families are having a tougher time this year than I’ve ever seen it."
Hawver estimates about 25 percent of the families that the shelter serves will become ineligible for emergency assistance because of these changes. Still, he’s hopeful that another source of funding will come through to fill in the gap. The money is certainly needed as more families slip into financial uncertainty.
A report released earlier this week by the National Center on Family Homelessness shows an increase from about 5,500 homeless Alaskan children in 2006 to nearly 7,300 in 2010. That’s a 30 percent increase in just four years.