The Real Facts About Homelessness

Amber Marten

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The holidays are right around the corner. While some people are sitting around the table in a warm house with plenty of food to go around, some people in our area only dream of having such delicacies.

Homelessness is a conversation that gets pushed aside when it comes up. Although it is a very uncomfortable subject to come across on a conversational level, it is a very serious and very real issue that people face every day all around the nation.

But focusing more on D.C Everest and the Wausau area, 162 students were considered homeless in the D.C Everest school district as a whole in 2015. That number has increased throughout the years that are leading up to today.

“As we determine our notification that a family is in transition, in terms of their housing situation, I receive a referral,” said Mrs. Erin Jacobson, a D.C. Everest District Social Worker. “A referral can come from anybody. It can come from a teacher, it can come from a family directly, it can come from, often, a counselor,”

A referral is a notification about someone or something that can be taken into further action or for consultation. Mrs. Jacobson explained that when a referral is sent to her, she tries to contact the family that is involved and begins to create a plan with the family that will help that family find a safe place to go, or to help them get back on their feet.

Jacobson said that a family could be ‘in transition’ in many ways. Some examples include: if families are losing their current home, if they have lost their home, or they are not able to afford their home that they are currently living in. When a family is in transition, they can be put into one of two categories. One is being ‘Doubled-Up’ where a family is staying with another family for a temporary period of time, and then transitioning to another home or shelter. The other is when a family or individual is on their own, transitions from shelters to temporary housing.

In Marathon County, Mrs. Jacobson said that ‘Doubling-Up’ is the most common category for homelessness in this area. Despite this, ‘Doubling-Up’ may not be the safest way to gain a temporary home.

“If they are in a ‘Double-Up’ situation that isn’t a safe environment, then we work forward from there,” said Mrs. Jacobson. “We always look at safety first and try to get them somewhere safe.”

Mrs. Jacobson said that when they find the family that is faced with this situation, they are able to look around the environment of their temporary home. Whether the environment or shelter be an actual home that they are living in with another family the social workers will then decide if the environment is safe for the family to be staying in.

She said that not only does she look at the family’s situation, she looks at the students that may be involved with the family to assist them with their needs at school as well as at home.

“We look at the students here at school, making sure that they have free and reduced lunch, so that they have access to food while they are at school and making sure that they are here [at school],” said Mrs. Jacobson.

If a student is attending a school, and that student does not have a mode of transportation to that school, Mrs. Jacobson said they will provide transportation for that student to get to and from school. Even if that student moved to a different family away from the district, they will still have transportation to get them to the same school they are attending.

‘Unaccompanied’ is a term used when a young individual, around 16-18 years of age, is not staying with their current family and is staying at other families’ homes. Mrs. Jacobson explained that if a high school student is bouncing from one friend’s house to the next, just to have a place to stay, it is known as ‘unaccompanied’. This term is under the category of ‘Doubled-up’, where an individual is staying with a family temporarily.

“Partially because of community resources, we don’t have the available shelters to adequately house the number of people who are in need. So they find themselves doubling up, because there isn’t adequate space for them to go,” said Mrs. Jacobson.

She said that one of the main reasons that the number of families and individuals becoming homeless is increasing is because the affordability of housing is becoming more difficult. Some homeless individuals in families could be working two jobs at the same time, while still not making enough for their rent or mortgage, not to mention the extra necessities that keep a home running smoothly.

“Their rent or their mortgage is costing them the majority of their paycheck. So that is limiting them for any other extra services,” said Mrs. Jacobson. “In addition, they are having to pay for utilities, then if they have Internet at home, and any type of cable at home, to some people that is extras.”

So if students don’t have internet at home to do the homework that is needed, what do they do?

Mrs. Jacobson said that teachers are willing to find a different type of system for students that are not equipped with the materials they need to do work and turn it in on time.

But a teacher can not do much if they don’t know what the situation is at home. If the teacher is not notified that a certain student is having struggles with having the basic necessities of a home today, like Internet,  the teacher will not have a different solution for that type of situation and will expect the student to do and turn in the work like everyone else.

“Teachers are accommodating when they know what’s going on, and that is a connection that we need to make finding and working with the families who find themselves in this struggle,” said Mrs. Jacobson.

She said that it can become difficult for families to take community resources like food, a place to stay, because of one word: pride. Pride can play a huge factor in deciding how the family wants to deal or take care of their transition. If a family is willing to talk about their living situation and how it is still becoming a struggle for them, it will be easier for them to accept community resources and to get help getting themselves back on their feet. If the family does not want anyone to know their living situation and would like to keep it to themselves, it may become difficult for them to get the resources they need.

With the image of pride being a factor in a transitional family’s life, some people get the wrong idea for how or why a family got to this point in their life.

“They are choosing to do this,” said Mrs. Jacobson, stating one of the many stereotypes that are put on some homeless families. “They do not care, they are lazy, we give them help and they do not take it, and I would say very very very rarely is that truly the case.”

She said that if the family does not want to accept the resources that are given to then, there is always a reason as to why they are not taking them.

  “It’s almost never that simple, usually their are multiple layers into a family’s situation,” said Mrs. Jacobson.

She said that building a trusting relationship with a transitioning family is very important for understanding and accepting their way of life and not only helping them with a life changing process, but to listen and not judge them for the situation they have been put in.

When a family is going through transition and they begin to make positive progress, Mrs. Jacobson said they celebrate little successes in their life.

“We look at success in small increments, we celebrate our small successes, or every success,” said Mrs. Jacobson. “Because maybe we are still struggling in different areas, it is kind of like an onion where every layer you peel back, there is more. And every layer we peel back we can serve or put a resource towards, and we celebrate that.”

She said that even though the successes may be small such as providing food for a family, or finding a place to stay, that is still considered a success for the family. These small successes must be celebrated to keep the family in a positive and brighter outlook for the future, and to help the family recognize that every success, whether it is big or small, can help them towards the life that they would like to have.

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The Real Facts About Homelessness