As part of our ongoing conversation on homelessness, we asked members of the Family Promise network and individuals working to serve families experiencing homelessness to share their personal thoughts and reflections on Family Promise and the issue of family homelessness. These writers are true thought leaders, using their skills and expertise to develop and implement creative solutions that are changing the lives of parents and children in their communities. This is an excerpt of an article by Claas Ehlers, CEO of Family Promise, that was originally published in Shelterforce.
What should we be doing now to address the increasing number of children who are expected to suffer pandemic-related homelessness?
My mom and I moved to Brooklyn after she broke up with a boyfriend. She was single and the apartment in Flatbush was the sixth household I would live in before I started kindergarten a few months later. Jobless, she aspired to work at the United Nations as an interpreter. That never came to pass, but she found employment through an unlikely source.
To entertain her preschooler, she would take me to a local pet store to play with puppies. After one of our frequent visits, the owner asked her if she was looking for work: His dog groomer was pregnant and about to leave.
My mom got the job with no relevant skills other than a love of animals and an abundance of gumption. She even started her own business grooming pets in people’s homes, with me in tow.
She made a decent wage, and we could afford our apartment off Foster Avenue; in 1970 that was unusual, a single mom living on her own.
Today, one-quarter of all children are in single-parent homes, overwhelmingly headed by a mother. Having only one parent has always tracked with less opportunity and more challenge compared with two-parent households, but a recent Pew Research study about single moms should concern us: “67.4 percent of ‘unpartnered mothers’ were employed and at work in September 2020, down from 76.1 percent a year earlier.”
As the CEO of Family Promise, a national nonprofit addressing family homelessness in more than 200 communities across the U.S., that statistic does more than give me pause; it dismays me. Anecdotally, we all know about two-parent families that have one parent, overwhelmingly the mom, who leaves their job to manage the new realities around remote schooling. For “unpartnered” mothers, that is not just a decision with dubious gender politics; it puts them on a continuum that will chug closer to homelessness if the trend does not reverse.