Homeless families causing foster children to linger in state custody

Homelessness is preventing the state's child welfare agency from reuniting 500 children with their families.

"Essentially, they are still not with their families for any reason other than poverty," Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz told the legislature's budget-writing committee Friday.

Of those children who "could go home if there was a home to go to," many are living with strangers in foster homes, group homes or shelters.

Katz

DCF Commissioner: 'They are still not with their families for any reason other than poverty.' (file photo)

State law forbids DCF from removing children from their homes because of poverty. But the agency has no alternative because there is limited affordable housing and subsized housing spots available in the state.

About 12,000 people are served in emergency shelters each year and the facilities have been operating at or above capacity for the last two years, reports the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.

The state child welfare agency reports that each month it refers 100 families with children to the state's subsidized housing program. About 800 families referred by DCF were on the waiting list for the Connections program in February 2012.

"It's not your fault because you don't have the resources," said Sen. Toni Harp, co-chairwoman of the legislature's budget writing committee.

The state spends about $6 million a year to provide housing for the families with children in foster care so they can return home. The state also recently landed $5 million in federal funds that will reunite 50 families by providing them with affordable housing and other services over the next five years.

But lawmakers Friday said much more is needed.

The co-chairwomen of the Appropriation Committee have routinely said that with all the affordable housing that the state finances, it is essential that DCF have its own pool of housing available for vulnerable children and their families.

Rep. Toni Walker, the other co-chairwoman of the budget committee, said that despite the state's "carving out" placements for the agency, which was meant to allow homeless families with children to jump to the top of the waiting list, it is clearly not enough.

The governor's Early Childhood Education Cabinet reports that one out of every eight people who spent time in an emergency shelter in 2011 was a child -- a "significant rise" from the previous year. For homeless people who are not staying in shelters, one-third are children.

Housing

An overhaul in affordable housing

With several towns across the state having less than 1 percent of their housing stock considered affordable by the Department of Economic and Community Development, the governor has proposed that the state infuse funding to construct and renovate existing units.

To do this, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is asking the state to borrow $60 million for the construction projects over the next two years.

These new units will be available for the elderly, disabled and low-income families with children. The investment is an attempt to clear the backlog of those people on waiting lists for affordable housing in the state. When the wait list for Middletown's affordable housing units opened recently, 50,000 people applied for 1,000 places.

However, Lisa Sementilli, deputy director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, said the decision of who will get these apartment will be left to local housing authorities. She said that currently, almost all of the available affordable housing is for the elderly and disabled.

"That is squeezing out the opportunity for families with children," she said during an interview.

An official with the governor's budget office said if the legislature appropriates the funding to offer additional affordable housing units or subsidies, the priority will be to make sure it goes to help those most in need, which includes families with children.

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