When you think of homelessness, you likely recall images of the chronically homeless. These are the people you pass on the street who are suffering from mental illness, addiction or other circumstances. But there’s a hidden homeless population far less familiar to the public – families.
“We don’t see those families with children,” said Katrina Bostick, executive director of Family Promise of the Coastal Empire. “We don’t see the working poor who are on their neighbor’s couch or residing in hotels.”
Family Promise invites you to take a glimpse into the lives of homeless families by participating in “Night Without a Bed” – a social media campaign intended to raise awareness and show compassion and solidarity for families experiencing homelessness. On June 26, you’re encouraged to get out of your bed and your comfort zone by spending the night in your car, a tent, or on the living room floor, and post a photo to social media using the hashtag #NightWithoutABed.
If you look up the hashtag now, you’ll find photos of others from around the country who have participated in this national campaign in the past. It’s troubling to see a child sleeping in a car knowing that there are children truly living this experience every day.
“We’re trying to give individuals an idea of what our families have to work through,” Bostwick said. “It’s really putting a face on what family homelessness looks like. Our families are residing in their vehicles, in hotels that might be unsafe, abandoned buildings and storage units. They’re not in safe spaces.”
Across the country, there are people trying to create stable circumstances for their family who just can’t find their foothold. In Chatham County alone, there are over 1,500 homeless students according to Bostick. Many of these families are in doubled-up households, meaning two or more families are sharing a disproportionately small residence. Hundreds of others are residing in inexpensive and typically dangerous highway motels. These precarious circumstances are often a precursor to complete homelessness and take an enormous toll on mental health. Family members, especially children, can suffer from feelings of instability, tension, and shame without a permanent residence.
“We have a lack of affordable housing in our community among other barriers that families face,” Bostick said. “Those could be criminal background, bad credit, lack of income or not enough income. It takes $19.21 an hour to afford a two-bedroom unit in our community.”
Georgia’s minimum wage is $5.15 per hour. With “some limited exceptions,” the federal minimum wage rate of $7.25 applies according to the Georgia Department of Labor website.
“Most apartment complexes and landlords in our communities require that renters have three times the rate of the rent to be able to afford that unit,” Bostick said. “For a single mom or dad or even a two-parent household, we know that that can be unrealistic.”
On June 30, just four days after “Night Without a Bed,” a COVID-instigated federal eviction moratorium protecting residents from evictions will come to an end. The timing of this campaign could not be more crucial.
“The rate of evictions will definitely increase within the next couple of weeks,” Bostick said. “We need to bring light to the housing issues that are in our community and to those who could be impacted.”
Photo courtesy of Family Promise National
A family attends a Family Promise event.
If you’re looking for other ways you can help, Bostick asks that, first and foremost, you show compassion for the homeless community. You’re also encouraged to write our legislators and advocate for affordable housing in our communities and a living wage. Savannah’s housing market and tourism are experiencing significant growth. As a result, the cost of living in our city is increasing. Our growth is celebrated by those with means while others are pushed closer toward homelessness.
“One thing COVID has shown us is that we are all extremely close to experiencing an episode of homelessness,” Bostick said. “In 2020, we saw a lot of people who are professionals in our community who never thought that they would have to seek our services. Always show kindness and love because you never know when you or one of your family members could be on the receiving end of our services. And be empathetic to those that you come in contact with who are experiencing homelessness.”
Share a photo to social media using the hashtag #NightWithoutABed on June 26 showing you out of your bed and your comfort zone, spending the night in your car, a tent, or on the living room floor.