As I continue my discussion on Social Justice through the Family Care Network’s Practice of Caring, let me reiterate that our organization is committed to do whatever is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of our most vulnerable populations: victims of neglect, abuse and social injustice. Vanquishing Social Injustice is a driving force undergirding our efforts, practices and programs.
There are currently over 581,000 people homeless in the United States, with California having the highest homeless population at around 152,000. About 34% of these homeless are families. Homelessness has become a major social problem in every major US city, but also in many smaller, even rural areas; even here on the Central Coast. In fact, San Luis Obispo County has the highest rate of homeless students in California!
According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States has far and away the highest rates of poverty in the developed world. Additionally, the extent of U.S. income and wealth inequality is quite extreme when compared to other industrialized countries. Of the 26 OECD participating nations, we embarrassingly have the highest rate of child poverty at 20.9%!
As I stated in Part 4 of this series, the youth we serve are most at-risk of becoming homeless; never obtaining a livable wage job and thus living in poverty; not completing high school or pursuing higher education; and being lifelong consumers of public resources. I believe it is a responsibility of the Family Care Network to ensure that all of the individuals we serve enjoy equal opportunity and access to whatever they need to achieve economic and housing stability.
Homelessness and Poverty are symptoms of severe Social Injustice, which “government” cannot solve alone. It will take a concerted effort community-by-community to conquer this problem. Social Justice says, “Everyone has a responsibility to promote equal rights, opportunity and treatment across society!”
To establish an effective solution to end homelessness requires that we look deeper into the causes of it. The most recent research indicates that the top five causes of homelessness are: 1) lack of affordable housing; 2) unemployment; 3) poverty; 4) mental illness and the lack of needed services; and 5) substance abuse and the lack of needed services. Contrary to public misconception, housing, unemployment and poverty are the primary contributors; while mental illness and substance abuse contribute far less to the problem.
I have specifically constructed the Family Care Network services (business) model to address these critical Social Injustices, so that we can lift our clients over these obstacles and place them on a road to a more successful, productive life. Let me provide you with a summary of what I mean.
Everyone who lives here on the Central Coast knows and understands firsthand that housing is a critical issue. Our region is the fourth least affordable corridor in the United States (low wages and high costs), and for decades we have had one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country, i.e. there is a shortage of available housing. In the face of this challenge, FCNI jumped into the housing business 22 years ago. We now operate five different housing programs: three for Transitional Age Youth (current and former foster youth), and two for homeless families. Additionally, housing has been a mission-critical issue for many of our families served through the Wraparound Program. (You can read the details of our programs on our website by clicking here [fcni.org].) Over this same span of time we have prevented homelessness for nearly 3,000 youth and families by providing housing. And here’s how we have done it.
Initially, FCNI staff worked very hard to develop trust and strong working relationships with local landlords and property managers. This relationship building has served us well, and we’ve established a proven track record of taking care of any problem that may emerge with our youth and families placed in their properties. Due to these strong relationships, some of these folks will now call us when they know they have an opening coming available. We have also worked hand-in-hand with our local Housing Authority and other community-based housing providers. As I said–it is a community effort!
The most significant step we have taken to address our community’s housing needs was to build capacity by purchasing small apartment complexes. Through a variety of creative funding opportunities we have purchased nine apartment complexes which house local youth and families in care. And we don’t want to stop here--we are always on the hunt for funding to purchase more.
Coupled with providing housing, we put considerable energy into teaching our clients how to secure and maintain housing as a critical, essential life skill. Social Justice says, “Everyone must have access to affordable, safe housing!”
Employment and climbing out of poverty go hand-in-hand. Every bit of available research points to one pervasive solution to overcoming poverty–earning a livable wage! As I mentioned above, in the USA, we have the greatest income inequality of any other developed nation. Consequently, the youth and adults we serve face an extraordinary uphill climb to self-sufficiency. But we are here to guide them to success.
The Family Care Network has developed a very comprehensive curriculum to instruct our clients on how to overcome the obstacles they face. We assist our young people in determining and pursuing a career path that will support them in the future. We instruct on how to find and maintain a job, including all the skills necessary to be a good successful employee or entrepreneur if that’s the case. We help our youth and families learn how to budget, manage credit, save and be good stewards of the income and resources they have. We teach them how to manage their spending, make smart purchases, how to plan for future expenditures and how to be patient and resist impulsive purchases. Social Justice says, “every individual deserves the opportunity to earn a living wage and have the hope for fiscal security!”
The final two causes of Homelessness and Poverty are also joined at the hip–mental wellbeing and being free of substance abuse. I think all of us have experienced the tragedy of encountering a homeless person who is obviously disconnected from reality or under the influence of some substance. The good news, however, is that this is preventable.
For 33+ years, the Family Care Network has been a “Behavioral Health” services provider. As such, we deliver both mental health and substance use disorder services–these are our specialties! As I have previously written, the advent of trauma is devastating, especially if it goes unaddressed. Again, I encourage all of my readers to explore and understand the impact of living through an Adverse Childhood Experience (Google ACE Research.) The clinical staff at FCNI are experts in delivering services designed to successfully treat individuals who have experienced trauma, especially chronic or severe trauma. Our clinical interventions are designed to promote healing, mental wellbeing, health, appropriate social functioning, and substance-use prevention. Social Justice says, “every individual must have access to the healthcare services they require, including behavioral health treatment!”
The Family Care Network has just eclipsed its 34th year of serving our Central Coast. It has been an absolute joy to be able to join arm-in-arm with our community to not only prevent Social Injustice, but to promote Social Justice by providing the treatment and skills necessary for the children, youth and families in our care to overcome all obstacles that might prevent them from living healthy, safe and productive lives. This is Social Justice at work through our Practice of Caring!