The childhood poverty rate in Hamilton County is 47% according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Two thirds of these children in poverty live in female headed households.
A recent survey by Strategies to End Homelessness (formerly known as the Cincinnati/Hamilton County Continuum of Care for the Homeless) found 776 individuals [in greater Cincinnati] that were homeless on a particular winter night, either on the streets or in shelters. Thirty-three percent of that population was families with children. This survey did not take into account the families that were living temporarily on a friend’s couch, in their sister’s living room, or squatting in an abandoned property. Anecdotal evidence indicates that many women with children are in unstable temporary housing, threatened with living on the streets or in shelters should the housing arrangement be suddenly terminated.
In a conversation in March of 2012 the operator of Grace Place, a small transitional housing provider on the west side of Cincinnati, told the founders of Lydia’s House that the pressures to house more women with children were considerable. “The phone calls never stop,” she said. “There are so many women out there who need a place to stay … we’re constantly turning people away. We don’t have the capacity.”
The challenges of the homeless population of Cincinnati are manifold. The aforementioned survey found that 31% of those surveyed were mentally ill and 30% reported a drug or alcohol dependency. Eighteen percent of homeless women in the city reported losing housing by fleeing domestic violence. However, the two top causes of homelessness named by participants in the report are the lack of affordable housing in the metro area and loss of income. To successfully transition out of homelessness, women will need safe, affordable homes and the finances to sustain them.
Out of a sense of wanting to address the profound need for safe transitional housing options the founders of Lydia’s House established a small residence for homeless women and their children. At capacity, Lydia’s House houses four women and up to six of their children. It also has up to two live-in volunteers and a generous pool of off-site volunteers. It includes not just a staffed house but also shared meals, provision of basic necessities like clothing and toiletries, assistance with transportation, accompaniment to appointments, court dates or hearings, facilitated referrals to outside service providers, and an overall sense of respect and encouragement to the residents who are working to establish themselves as agents capable of successful self-management.