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Childcare and Homelessness: A Universal Stress in a Unique Situation

“I tell expectant parents, childcare is a constant emergency,” my husband once told me, as he stirred half and half into his coffee. “There is never a moment when you have the luxury of

not knowing where your kids are and who is watching them.”

At first, I scoffed at this airy pronouncement of doom, and cringed at the thought of it being casually dropped at a baby shower. But then I acknowledged the kernel of truth it contains. Finding, securing, and maintaining safe, reliable childcare is a major source of stress for parents.

Then comes paying for it. The annual median cost of childcare in a mid-sized county (such as Linn county) ranged from $8,400 to $10,194 in 2018. In today’s dollars, that translates to $9,356 to $11,354 per year (Landivar et al., 2023). These numbers represent the annual cost of daycare per child for children pre-school age and younger. For a family with two small children, the total cost of childcare would be about $20,000 per year.

An expense of this size would present a challenge for many, if not most, families. For families experiencing homelessness, the problem is compounded. Denine Rushing, the Support Services Director at Willis Dady, notes, “It’s a lot of stress on families because they’re not only experiencing homelessness, but they’re experiencing homelessness while also still trying to raise their families, their children.”

Rushing oversees the shelter manager and two shelter case managers. This involves assessing clients’ needs and connecting them with available resources and agencies in the community, including childcare resources. “When anyone checks into the shelter, the case manager is going to meet with them on a one-on-one basis. We really need to figure out what caused the individual or family to need to seek shelter – what are those barriers? And once we know those barriers, then we create a case plan to not only help this client get into housing, but to also address whatever barriers they may have.”

With an issue as complex as homelessness, the barriers tend to pile on top of each other. Affordability is an obvious one, made worse by inflation in general and increased housing costs specifically. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the cost of housing alone increased 7.7% from July 2022 to July 2023 (Consumer Index Price Summary, August 2023). Rushing points to transportation as another barrier. “When it comes to childcare, one of the struggles that I have witnessed is transportation – so for the parent to get to the daycare provider, drop the kids off in the morning, and then be able to get to work on time.”

Rushing and her team help parents apply for grants that defray the cost childcare. Once approved, they work with them to find a childcare facility that meets their needs, including availability for their children’s specific ages, proximity to work, and high-quality, safe care. “I always remind families that when you’re looking for a daycare provider, you’re really looking for someone that you can trust for your kids to be around when you’re not around. You have the option to call any daycare providers in your community that accept the grant, go in to the facility, ask questions. As a parent, you have that right. You have a voice, and you have the right to use that voice. And as parents, our voices speak for our children.”

The struggle doesn’t end when families have secured housing, transportation, childcare, and employment. Earning income affects eligibility for grants and may cause some aid to phase out while the family is still in a precarious financial situation. Rushing notes that when someone is just getting on their feet, missing work even for one day due to illness, childcare issues, transportation issues, etc. can lead to falling behind on bills. But the work being done is a good start, and you can be a part of it.

Use your voice to help more parents experiencing homelessness find theirs. When you support Willis Dady, you support our clients and the case managers who work with them. We have many opportunities that are waiting for someone like you to pitch in. Spread the word, volunteer, or donate.

If you or someone you know is struggling to find and pay for safe, reliable childcare, check out the Linn County webpage for health and social service resources.

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