Let's keep unhoused families together during the pandemic
By Vicki Spriggs Austin American-Statesman
Nov 29, 2020
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the Evictions Protection Act, a temporary eviction moratorium in September, it provided vital security to the more than 43 million American households and six million Texans who rent their homes. Under the order, landlords and property owners are prohibited from evicting tenants who are financially affected by COVID-19 and earn less than $99,000 a year.
However, landlords will be able to resume evictions on Dec. 31, 2020. Since more than one in five Texan households rent their homes, this could mean millions of Texas parents and children may be forced out of their homes and onto the streets. Unfortunately, homelessness is likely to be one of the most long-lasting and detrimental effects of the pandemic. And with that, a potential crisis in children entering the foster care system may ensue, unless we take preventative action now.
Child Protective Services (CPS) cannot remove children from their parents solely because they are experiencing poverty. However, CPS is more likely to investigate a family that doesn’t have stable housing. Loss of shelter creates a cascade of other risk factors — it can create or exacerbate mental health issues and potentially trigger substance use, all of which increase the likelihood that children may be removed from their families by the state.
The state could determine that neglect is taking place if a parent is unable to provide for their child’s basic needs — such as access to shelter, food, education and medical care — as a result of their housing instability. Supportive services may be offered by CPS, but parents without shelter may also lack transportation and the capacity to get to regular appointments.
Children in this circumstance might enter the foster care system, which is already overburdened with more than 30,000 children and too few foster homes.
CASA programs (Court Appointed Special Advocates) are local nonprofit organizations that train volunteers who are appointed by judges to advocate for the best interest of children and youth in the child welfare system. The potential for an increase in evictions and children entering the system is a major concern for CASA and other advocates for children and families.
Caring, loving parents who are taking good care of their children should not face the prospect of losing custody of those children solely because of housing instability — particularly during a pandemic.
Unnecessary family separation results in immense, lifelong trauma to both parents and children, and compounds existing social problems. We must take swift preventative measures against homelessness.
Fighting to keep families together
We recommend the following actions. The U.S. Senate needs to join the House in approving a 15% increase in the maximum benefits for SNAP so that fewer American families face hunger and can use more of their resources to keep a roof over their heads. The evictions moratorium should be extended until the end of the pandemic and Texas sees economic recovery and a declining unemployment rate. Congress should provide more rental assistance as part of a new coronavirus stimulus bill, and Texas should make every effort to provide support services and help parents regain financial stability.
Texas is a state that values children. It is far less expensive to Texas — both financially and in terms of trauma to young people and their parents — to keep a vulnerable family housed for a period of months than to send children unnecessarily into the foster care system.
We can do better. Now is the time to take vigorous, proactive policy steps to protect children and families.
VICKI SPRIGGS is the CEO of Texas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), a nonprofit dedicated to improving the child protection system through legislation and public policy changes.
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