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A paycheque away from being homeless

According to US government figures, more than a million school aged children are without shelter.
Last modified: 2 May 2013 01:27

In 2010, US President Barack Obama pledged to end homelessness for children and families within a decade. Since making that promise, however, the number of families facing homelessness in the US has been climbing.

The reasons are complex and it can often be difficult to isolate a single cause. It is also an issue that many families don't want to discuss. 

Cornecia is different. She is a single mom living in Louisville, Kentucky. She knows firsthand what homelessness feels like because it happened to her.

Cornecia and her three-year old son Raylen had been living in a homeless shelter for weeks, when I met up with them. Raylen is an energetic boy with large bright eyes that hide so much of the pain of domestic violence that his mother says he has witnessed already in his short life.

On the day I met Raylen, he bounded out of bed, even though he woke up to a cameraman, producer and reporter standing in his bedroom filming a news story for Al Jazeera.

It didn't seem to affect him at all. Instead, he opened his eyes and instantly smiled. From there, he started his day like most boys his age. He got ready for day care, so Cornecia could go to work.

Still, what makes Raylen different, is where he's waking up. Cornecia told me a homeless shelter is a place she never dreamed she would be raising her son.

"Never, never. I come from a two parent home, sisters. I’ve been to college. I work every day," she told me.

"I would have never thought in a million years me and my son would end up in a shelter. Absolutely not."

Medical technician

Cornecia works a full-time job as a medical technician in Louisville, Kentucky. When the physical abuse of her marriage forced her to move out, she could no longer afford to pay rent on her wages alone.

Overnight she was faced with the reality of having to sleep in her car because she and Raylen had nowhere else to go. It was the first of many nights Cornecia and Raylen would spend being homeless.

Their plight is familiar to Jane Burks. She is the president of Volunteers of America of Kentucky, an organisation that helps homeless families get off the streets.

She says so many working families in the US, just like Cornecia's, are living just one crisis away from being homeless.

She says that's because so many jobs in the US no longer pay a living wage.

"If you are making minimum wage, you actually need to hold down two jobs in order to afford a market rate apartment for a family of three or four people," said Burks.

According to US government figures, more than a million school aged children are homeless. In the past year, the number of homeless families living in rural and suburban areas in the US, has risen by 60 percent.

Almost three years ago, President Obama unveiled a plan to end child and family homelessness in ten years. Yet, recent federal budget cuts have hit many of the programs designed to help needy families.

That’s what scares Cornecia.

"My fear is becoming homeless again," she told me, "I don’t think many people understand, most people are a paycheck, meaning one paycheque, away from being homeless."

She's living proof, she told me, that homelessness can happen to anybody.