ST. CHARLES-CO-(KMOX)–The suburb over the rainbow where people moved to get away from problems elsewhere is now faced with a growing problem of homeless families — with almost half of it’s homeless now under the age of 18.
“I think we’re seeing a trend in the last three or four years of homelessness really becoming a suburban problem,” said Dottie Kastigar with the Community Council of St. Charles County, “And we’re also seeing the trend move toward family homelessness.
At a conference on suburban homeless trends here, Kastigar released totals from a January 25 headcount of the homeless in St. Charles, Lincoln and Warren Counties.
The headcount shows 1,023 homeless — up from 1,003 the year before. St. Charles County was the worst with over 800 homeless. Lincoln and Warren Counties reported about 100 homeless each, Kastigar said.
By contrast, the three-county region reported only 470 homeless in 2007.
Kastigar blames the surge on the closing of the Chrysler plant, the foreclosure crisis, a rising population base, the lack of affordable housing, and welfare reform pushing people to work in lower-paying service sector jobs.
“The typical homeless person in the suburbs is in a family and partially employed,” Kastigar said.
Breaking down the totals, Kastigar says 54 percent are women, 46 percent men — and of the total, 47 percent are under the age of 18.
The headcount also tracks people “doubling up,” living with friends or relatives to stay off the street. There were more than 1,500 people doubling up in the three counties during the January count, an increase of 55 percent over the year before.
In 2010, 762 were counted.
in 2011, 1,043 were counted.
In 2012, 1,527 were counted.
Kastigar says 75 percent of sofa surfers in the three-county region are families with children.
“Most of these numbers are reported from local school districts,” Kastigar said, “because these children qualify for special services and they also cost the school districts extra money in helping transport them to school from all kinds of places that may be out of the community.”
MANY KEPT IN MOTELS
Kastigar says many homeless are living on the streets, but some 300 to 400 are being put up every night in St. Charles County motels at the expense of churches and charities.
Kastigar declined to identify the motels. She says no taxpayer money is being used for the motels, but she could not provide a dollar total on the cost of housing homeless in motels.
“The cost per day of maintaining them in a motel is roughly $35 a day or $160 a week,” Kastigar said, “Comparably, most shelters by the time they pay their staffing costs, the numbers are significantly higher… $50 to $150 a day.”
St. Charles County has only one 32 bed shelter for families, and none for men.
Federal, state and local taxpayer funding for the homeless in St. Charles County adds up to $1.5 million annually, Kastigar said. She says that money is used for “rehousing efforts or permanent supportive housing.”
With the shaky recovery, Kastigar is not optimistic about lowering the homeless and sofa surfer numbers any time soon.
“At this point it does continue to grow, and we need to come up with some solutions,” she said.