Housing is just the start

Why housing is just the start to real, lasting success 

The first stop was a shelter, then a referral to Wellspring. For Beth and her toddler, hope was now in view.

Once at Wellspring Family Services, Beth had someone in her corner who took the time to walk her through the housing process and asked her to lay out her goals, someone who helped her take control.

Result: Beth found an apartment. She landed a job and then a second job. If someone calls in sick, she covers.

“I’m proud of me. When I say ‘I struggle,’ I say, ‘I’m strong.’”

For every Beth there is a Shawna, who was living in a car when she was referred to Wellspring. Homeless for months, Shawna hadn’t slept in weeks. Then, she moved from car to motel. She got a job and now has permanent housing.  

But are they out of the woods? 

Today, Beth and Shawna, and their respective children, are in stable situations. Still, homelessness can affect a child’s development years after the fact. Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, can follow a child into adulthood, affecting their health, their ability to make friends, even their ability to pay attention or plan ahead.

This is why, as another client shared at our recent Powerful Change luncheon, dealing with homelessness is so much more than finding a place to stay. The impact of trauma on your child can change him; as a parent, there are things you can do to buffer against it.

The state's annual Point in Time count tallies more than 4,000 children and young adults homeless in Washington at any given moment. In King County, the January One Night Count saw a spike of 700 individuals sleeping without shelter. More than 10,000 were counted as homeless in King County that night, when adding up those in shelters, on the street and in transitional housing.

Living in homelessness, witnessing violence, having a family member addicted to alcohol or drugs, or losing a parent to prison or death, any and all of these can have negative, lifelong consequences on a child. Experiencing them does not mean kids can’t recover and thrive, but it does mean services need to continue beyond housing placement.

Housing, even rapid re-housing, is only a partial solution.

Trauma affects parents and their ability to nurture their children. A child's relationship with their parents and community affects his or her brain development and hence one’s physical, social and emotional growth. These, in turn, affect a child's success in school and work, plus one’s ability to make friends and thrive.

Positive experience, responsive relationships and stable lives: It takes all three

Beth’s daughter was a toddler when she first connected to Wellspring. Mother and child were among the hundreds of homeless families in our region that drift among friends for short stays. Beth describes a moment of clarity when she looked at her daughter and thought, “You don’t deserve this.”

“I said to my friend, ‘Take me out of here.’” And so began Beth’s journey toward stability.

In Shawna’s case, she and her children fled domestic violence. They had been homeless for months. She was wracked with worry. Her children couldn’t focus at school.

For Shawna, change started with a motel. She established a routine. Her children had a safe and stable place to sleep, eat, shower, and catch up on homework.  Shawna could then focus on recovery and therapy. As she grew stronger, Shawna worked with Wellspring staff to secure employment and permanent housing. Shawna rebuilt.

That motel room opened a door. But lasting change, generational change, hinges on the wrap-around services, such as Wellspring offers, which Shawna, Beth and other parents and their children need to heal.

With homelessness spiking in King County, we need to keep addressing issues of affordable housing and make sure family services are accessible across the region. Which is why parents like Shawna and Beth can turn to Wellspring. With homelessness in their rear-view mirror, they can focus on a better future for their children and themselves. 

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