SANFORD, Fla. – We are still feeling the crippling effects of coronavirus on our economy.
Eight months into it and many businesses are still closed and millions of Americans are out of work with little or no way to pay their bills. That’s leading some experts to predict a 45% increase in homelessness over the next year.
That would mean hundreds of thousands of more men, women, and children living on the streets, in tents, shelters, cars, or motels throughout the country. One woman believes it’s time to change the way we think about homelessness, reshape policies, and focus on communities to help get their own residents back on their feet.
In tents, under bridges, along streets … this is the scene in almost every big city.
“I had nowhere to go, I was living on benches,” said Keith McClellan.
He spent almost a year like this. His son was forced into foster care and left wondering why.
“Kind of confused,” said his son, Kegan, who is in third grade.
“Families with children are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population. Fastest growing segment,” said Rajni Shankar-Brown, chair of social justice education at Stetson University and an executive board member at the National Coalition for the Homeless. Families make up close to 40% of the homeless population.
Rajni Shankar-Brown has dedicated her life to changing how people and communities respond to the homeless.
“It is critical that we are looking at it from all different angles,” said Shankar-Brown, who believes lack of living wage jobs and access to affordable housing are the main contributors to the increase.
“Since the pandemic, we have seen this even escalate,” Shankar-Brown said.
She’s working to reform the system -- solving the problem at the community level. Right now, many families are afraid to ask for help.
“There’s the fear of the state taking their kids away,” said Shankar-Brown.
It’s because of this, Shankar-Brown is a driving force behind the Neighborhood Center of West Volusia that provides housing, food, clothes, and emergency assistance.
“Trying to build resources, ways that families can truly thrive and receive the support they need,” said Shankar-Brown.
Her mentoring program, known as the “Hatters University Scholars” brings students to campus to expose them to the benefits of higher education.
“All too often, poverty and homelessness prevent our children and youth from realizing and reaching their potential, and it is up to us to disrupt this narrative,” said Shankar-Brown.
The Center, combined with community members who cared, helped to get Keith a higher paying full-time job and reunite him with his son. “Everybody, thank you for helping my dad out,” said Kegan.
Shankar-Brown develops workshops for educational leaders and teachers throughout the country and started a poverty and homelessness conference to raise awareness.