Fallout: The Financial Crisis

The new face of homelessness

Kai Ryssdal Dec 17, 2009
Fallout: The Financial Crisis

The new face of homelessness

Kai Ryssdal Dec 17, 2009


Kai Ryssdal: A lot of people have suffered reversals of fortune this year. They have lost money. Some have lost jobs and then they lost their homes. They’ve had to move in with friends or family or they’ve wound up in shelters or on the street. People who never could have imagined that they would wind up homeless.

At the Union Station homeless shelter in Pasadena, it’s dinner hour at the Family Center. At 6:30 sharp the moms and dads and kids that live here come together in a cavernous dining hall. Tonight it’s burgers, chili and chicken nuggets on the menu. There are 15 families at the shelter. Pauline and her two kids among them. She didn’t want us to use their last name.

PAULINE: This is my son. Say, “Hi.”

SON: Hello.

PAULINE: And my daughter. She’s 4, just finished school, say “Hi.”


They’ve been here for a couple of weeks. She lost her job at Bank of America back in October.

PAULINE: In the back of my mind I knew it was a possibility. I mean, you can’t have all these different managers being let go and not think that you can’t be. But I just figured, you know, you work hard, you keep up your scores and your results, you’ll be OK. I think that was the mistake that I made.

As a single mom, living paycheck to paycheck, Pauline realized pretty fast she wasn’t going to be able to keep on paying rent.

PAULINE: At first I couldn’t believe that I was in that position. And I didn’t want people to know because kids can be mean. And I didn’t want anything getting back to like my son’s friends. I didn’t want any repercussions for my kids.

She and the kids bounced around a few friends’ homes, they slept in the car one night. No family shelters would allow her 15-year-old son to stay with her, and then she found a shelter that would. Union Station Homeless Services has been around for more than 30 years.

Rabbi Marvin Gross, the CEO, says this year has been one of the busiest.

RABBI MARVIN GROSS: All of our facilities have been filled to capacity. Today over half of the clients that we serve are women and children. Families. So family homelessness is the big new face of homelessness over the last 10 years.

The National Coalition for the Homeless says just since last year family homelessness is up almost 10 percent. That’s more than a half million people. Union Station offers food and housing and help finding a job. It’s got an adult shelter, too, for single people. Here at the Family Center, there’s a library and a laundry room. Upstairs there’s a family dormitory — 15 single beds arranged in a space not really much bigger than a good-sized living room. In different circumstances Pauline might have called it cozy.

PAULINE: This is what took me the most adjusting. This is like, for somebody that’s used to having plenty of space and being able to run around. It’s a lot.

Pauline’s up and out early every day. She’s getting the kids to school. And then getting herself out for interviews.

Sue Shanley is a job counselor at the shelter.

SUE SHANLEY: The number of new people coming through has stayed pretty constant. The intensity with which they look at me and say, I’ll do anything has increased. There’s more desperation.

Pauline does figure she and the kids are going to spend the holidays at Union Station.

PAULINE: I’ve already talked to the children about that. My son said, you know, “It’s cool. We’ll just have Christmas in January.”

RYSSDAL: And the 4 year old says?

PAULINE: Mommy, I want a Dora toy.

She is determined to have that Christmas in January, though, when she promises they are going to be out on their own again.

PAULINE: Nowhere to go but up right now.

In fact, she starts a new job tomorrow. Yes, pays less, and the position isn’t quite what she had before. But, she says, you start over one step at a time.

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