Sacramento Steps Forward recently released a report that says 3,665 people are living without permanent shelter in Sacramento County; the highest number of homeless people ever recorded in the county.
The 2017 Point-In-Time Count indicates that families represented 36 percent of all homeless people accessing shelters in 2017. The majority of homeless families were single-parent families, with an average of two or more children. Efforts to provide permanent housing and mental health services are a critical part in solving this crisis. Providing a safe haven for homeless children is essential, too.
Data show parents and caregivers who are young, inexperienced, or face extreme stress or trauma, such as homelessness, are most at risk for committing child neglect. We know firsthand that early childhood trauma increases a child’s chances of entering the foster care system.
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At Sacramento Children’s Home Crisis Nursery Program, we seek to protect vulnerable children by offering a free, safe and supportive environment during crises. Parents can bring their children, up to the age of 5, for emergency or overnight care.
Parents seek our services for a variety of reasons, such as issues related to mental illness, drug and alcohol dependency, or domestic violence. One day in June, nine homeless children under age 5 were at our crisis nursery. That number was unprecedented.
One of our clients is a mother who has two children ages 4 and 2 living in a tent in a family’s backyard. Both children have chronic medical problems. The mom brought her children to the crisis nursery so they would have a safe place to stay when the temperature was unbearably hot.
Another mother suffers from developmental delays and mental health problems and was living in a park when someone tried to kidnap her 2-year old daughter. The crisis nursery connected her with a housing case manager and enrolled her daughter in preschool, so the child is safe when the mother seeks affordable housing.
Prevention is the key to building a future free from child abuse and neglect. Families who use the crisis nurseries receive case management support and are connected to community resources so that they are empowered to handle future crises on their own.
The unfortunate reality is that the current level of funding for the Sacramento Children’s Home Crisis Nursery Program is not sufficient to meet the demand. We must turn away more than 1,000 children and their families a year because of a lack of funding.
First 5 Sacramento, which is funded by a tobacco tax, provides most of the Crisis Nursery Program’s funding. Because smoking is declining, the tobacco tax is a declining source of revenue.
As we work to identify additional sources of funding, we also hope policymakers, community leaders, businesses and the people of Sacramento recognize the invaluable services that the Crisis Nursery program provides so that families can regain their footing. With the homeless epidemic, residents need our services now more than ever.
Roy Alexander is the chief executive officer of the Sacramento Children’s Home. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.