Rochester, N.Y.— In her lifetime, Tasha Medina has faced adversity, but she never imagined she would have to deal with homelessness.
“It's like this depressing feeling,” Tasha says. “Of course you’re scared when you have kids, but it's more of a depressing feeling because you feel like you can't take care of your children. It's a bad feeling. It's not a good feeling.”
The single mother of three was laid off from her job earlier this year. She had to go on unemployment and couldn’t afford to pay the rent at her home. She had to seek emergency shelter at the YWCA where she lives now.
The YWCA of Rochester and Monroe County says Tasha’s situation is not unique. The agency has seen an increase in homeless families coming through their doors. In the last few months alone there has been a 300 percent increase in the number of children at their shelter, and many of them are under the age of two.
“Right now, we're seeing spike in homelessness and we've never seen this before at this time of the year,” says Carrie Michel-Wynne, the housing director for YWCA.
According to Michel-Wynne, there are about 700 people who experience homelessness on any given night in Rochester. She says there is also a misconception about what homelessness looks like.
“I think a lot of people envision homelessness as a gentleman standing on the overpass with a coin jar,” says Michel-Wynne. “But actually these are families with children. They are hard-working individuals. They are people who really want to work and have a home. It could be you or me. It could be a couple of weeks and we could be in this situation.”
Homeless doesn’t mean you’re necessarily on the streets. Homeless people live in shelters, hotels or at friends' and relatives’ homes.
The YWCA estimates that 75 percent of people who are homeless only need short-term help to get back on their feet. The average length of stay at their shelter is nine days.
The agency says it can’t be sure why there is a spike in the homeless population but says it may have something to do with the fact that federal stimulus dollars to help combat homelessness ran out in July.
“Our community received about $6.5 million to avert homelessness in the last three years,” says Michel-Wynne. “Those resources are no longer available in our community. We know that many, many families avoided short-term homelessness because of the resources we were able to provide.”
Michel-Wynne also cites the increasing cost of gas, food and rent as factors adding to the problem. She also says some local hotels which housed the homeless population recently closed their doors.
“The economy hasn't recovered as quickly as we'd hoped,” she says. “It's very difficult for mothers to survive with limited income. Even if there is a short-term crisis, it could lead to homelessness.”