By Yolanda Sullivan
This holiday season, many of us will spend time with family and friends, recall our blessings for the past year and reflect on happy memories. In all likelihood, many Americans, including me, will not give much thought to the nearly 60,000 children who are homeless in Alabama. However, it’s time that we start to focus on paying it forward and eliminating homelessness in our backyard.
Last month, the National Center on Family Homelessness released its report card on child homelessness. The report, America’s Youngest Outcasts, provides some staggering statistics about child homelessness and profiled each state for overall child well-being. We here in Alabama tend to shy away from state rankings – except for our football rankings – because we are usually near the bottom of the list. This report is no exception. It ranks us last in the nation based on four factors: extent of child homelessness, child well-being, risk for child homelessness and state policy and planning efforts. Governor Bentley and our elected officials tout investment in businesses as a way to spur economic development here in Alabama. My question is, why aren’t we investing in our own children?
Study after study has shown that when families experience homelessness, children fall behind in school, struggle with social relationships and are more likely to get sick or develop chronic health issues. We must make some real changes here in Alabama to reduce the number of our children who face these significant hurdles each and every day.
To make matters worse, the 2014 Kids Count report, also released last month, cites that 1 in 3 Alabama children – 355,000 boys and girls– live in homes in which combined costs of rent and utilities exceeds 30 percent of the family’s income. Those 355,000 children would fill both Jordan-Hare and Bryant-Denny stadiums more than three times over. Too many families have to choose between paying rent and paying for other necessities, such as food, medicine and transportation. I believe that hardworking Alabamians should be able to pay rent and still be able to put food on the table.
One component of the solution to address child homelessness and poverty is for the state to invest in the development of safe and affordable housing opportunities for children and their families. The Alabama Housing Trust Fund, established in 2012, can be used to construct and rehabilitate affordable homes for both rental and home ownership opportunities. It could also be used for down payment assistance or for emergency repairs to keep families in their homes. A trust fund is a flexible source of funding that can address a community’s most pressing affordable housing needs.
Our goal is clear. We must end child poverty and homelessness in Alabama. Let’s start by investing in Alabama, its communities and its people. We need to capitalize the Alabama Housing Trust Fund and create opportunities for Alabamians to afford safe and stable homes. The reason is simple: every child deserves a safe place to call home.
Yolanda Sullivan is Chief Executive Officer of the YWCA Central Alabama, which is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.
To learn more about the Alabama Housing Trust Fund, please visit www.alabamahousingtrustfund.org.