Homelessness is on the rise in cities around the United States, an increase that is, according to advocates, largely the result of rising housing costs that have exacerbated the already tenuous situations for poor and working-class people and families.
A deeply felt New York Times profile of one family makes clear how pregnancy and the birth of a child can make unstable housing situations more dire, driving “entire families to homelessness.” In New York City, as of August of this year, more than 15,000 families, including 22,000-plus children, were living in city shelters, and families make up three-fourths of all shelter residents in the city. As the Times notes, “the largest single population in New York City’s shelter system is children under the age of 6.” This is not unique to New York City. San Francisco, where the average monthly rent for an apartment tops $3,000, has also experienced a sharp rise in the number of pregnant homeless women.
The Times story goes on to explains the connection between homelessness and pregnancy:
New York City has a list of official causes of homelessness, and high on the list are eviction, overcrowding, family discord and domestic violence. Look closely and pregnancy is often intertwined, advocates for the homeless say.
A woman becomes pregnant, and suddenly, the two-bedroom apartment she is sharing with her family becomes too small. Faced with added responsibility once the baby is born, she falls behind on bills and rent. Family tensions rise. She argues with parents or with her partner. She may become a victim of domestic violence. Too often, she ends up moving into a shelter and so does her child.
Steven Banks, the city’s commissioner of social services, said infants are often “the tipping point” for families on the verge of losing a permanent home. “The main driver of homelessness, irrespective of pregnancy, is the gap between rent and income,” he said. “However, the birth of a new child is a background factor.”
Take the situation of Shimika and Tony Sanchez. For Shimika, the years before had been defined by instability—in 2012, the apartment she, her mother, and her two sisters lived in was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy. After living in a hotel for several months after being displaced by the storm, the entire family crowded into a home in Brooklyn they were able to pay for with the assistance of Section 8.
Shimika, who had two children already and a third on the way, decided to move into a shelter in March 2017; Tony would join her after being released from prison later that year. Due to complications from her pregnancy, Shimika was forced to leave her job as a home health aide; Tony had difficulty finding work. Their son Antonio was born in August, and was one of more than 1,000 babies born to someone living in the shelter system at that time.
The impact of homelessness on children can be severe, according to the Times:
A 2011 study of homelessness in 31 cities, including New York, showed that infants born to homeless mothers are at greater risk of longer stays in the hospital. Children begin to show signs of emotional problems and developmental delays by 18 months. They also have poorer nutrition and go to fewer preventive medical appointments, including for vaccinations, according to the study published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
You can read the full New York Times story here.