Supporting All Families

Ruth, a single mother, shares her story of regaining stability and exiting homelessness with the help of services and supports from Saranam, a transitional housing program in New Mexico. A new article published in the Open Health Services and Policy Journal proposes a three-tier approach to assessing the needs of families experiencing homelessness. In the words of Ruth, “Saranam has given me a second chance.”

"I am hopeful about the future. Saranam has given me a second chance," says Ruth, a single mother. She and her twin 16-month old sons are now transitioning out of homelessness with the support of Saranam, a transitional housing program that offers a wide range of supportive services tailored to the varying needs of different families.

Family homelessness is on the rise across the nation. Experts agree that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for families experiencing homelessness. However, some may underestimate families’ needs for services and supports to successfully move out of homelessness. New research published in the HRC Special Issue on “The Future of Homeless Services” in the Open Health Services and Policy Journal offers a new way to assess what families need to exit homelessness.

In “A Framework for Developing Supports and Services for Families Experiencing Homelessness,” the authors point to emerging research demonstrating that supports and services help ensure long-term housing stability for families. They propose a new framework that can help service providers assess a family’s needs for supports and services over time. It is based on three tiers of needs:

  • Tier 1. These are the services that all families need, regardless of socioeconomic status. They include: affordable permanent housing; jobs that pay a living wage; child care; health care; transportation; and basic services for children. About 10% of families experiencing homelessness will thrive with these services alone.
  • Tier 2. About 80% of families that are homeless need greater support, and will fall under Tier 2. These services include Tier 1 services, in addition to a range of specialized services including: education and job opportunities; mental health and traumatic stress services; family supports; and services for children. Families’ needs for these services will change over time, as they stabilize.
  • Tier 3. Lastly, a small number – roughly 10% of homeless families – will require Tier 3 services. These include income supports as well as ongoing, intensive service and supports in order to maintain housing stability and the well-being of family members. Typically, many of these families have a member with a serious medical, mental health and/or substance use problem.

At Saranam, Ruth and her sons are getting the supports and services they need to move on from homelessness. Ruth lives in an apartment complex with six other families. Her apartment is within walking distance of the Saranam office. She participates in parenting, stress relief, and budgeting classes offered by the Community University of New Mexico. She receives intensive case management from Saranam.

She explains that the support she receives from Saranam helps eliminate multiple stressors from her life. She is able to focus on learning how to live independently again. She’s focusing on learning how to take care of herself, her sons, and is going to school. Right now she is taking basic math and practical writing classes. Her goal is to become a pediatric nurse. “I would like to make a difference, even if it is in just one life,” explains Ruth.

Ruth explains that her childhood was difficult. It taught her that abusive relationships were okay. She was forced to leave her home at age fifteen and says she managed on her own for a while. But by the age of 33 she was in an abusive relationship, which she believed she deserved.

After learning that her husband was living a double life, she decided to leave. “He grabbed my neck and cracked my tailbone. I left, but I returned a couple of times.” says Ruth. Finally, she left for good. After her money for living in motels ran out, she found refuge in a domestic violence shelter. “I didn’t know what else to do. The shelter took us in. It was really tough, but I appreciate everything they did for us. I went through a lot of counseling and then I was referred to Saranam,” shares Ruth.

She entered into Saranam’s supportive program when her twin boys were still small. She explains that when they were living in the shelter, the boys had no space to crawl. “The night I was given a key to our Saranam apartment, my boys crawled everywhere. I cried. It was amazing to be able to give them that. It is so hard to feel good about yourself even when you are doing the best that you can do for your children,” says Ruth.

Ruth shares that living in a community of mothers and children who are moving beyond homelessness is central to supporting her well-being. “We help each other out and provide emotional support,” says Ruth. When things are going badly, all of the families have the support of their case manager, Kelly Brooks. “She really helps us to take care of difficult situations. When it is too much for me, Kelly offers me a different perspective. She suggests alternative solutions that I could not find on my own,” says Ruth. She explains that the solutions are often simple things that she wouldn’t have thought of by herself. Through this process, she learns how strong she really is, and how much more she is capable of.

Publication Date: 
Rockville, MD, USA