CARSON CITY — Children’s advocates contested the assertion of a child welfare official who told legislators Monday that homelessness has not increased since the recession began.
Government agencies aren’t seeing an increase because the new generation of homeless are those who have just lost their jobs and homes and may be living temporarily with friends, they said.
The newly homeless may not know how to secure the help they need from welfare and social services agencies.
“They don’t know where to go because they have never done it before,” said Julia Ratti, a representative of the Human Services Network. “Eventually, they will be showing up on our doorsteps.”
The advocates spoke at a legislative news conference intended to drum up support for preserving child welfare and education spending.
“Just because someone isn’t getting services doesn’t mean they are not homeless or not in need,” said Amanda Haboush of Every Child Matters. “If they are homeless, what address do they put on a list? Homelessness is growing. We will see tremendous growth in it over the next two years.”
But during a hearing before the Legislature, the top child welfare authority in Clark County said he has not yet seen an increase in homelessness.
“There may be a delay (before they see an increase),” said Tom Morton, Clark County director of family services. “First foreclosures, then an increase in TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families). It may be nine months to 12 months down the line before we see an increase in child welfare cases.”’
But Keith Schiller, Washoe County director of social services, said his county’s family homeless shelter is full.
Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, expressed concern that in coming months, more children will living out of cars or on the streets if the recession deepens.
During a joint Senate-Assembly committee meeting looking at child welfare spending, Coffin said legislators may have to set aside extra money for children’s services — the Legislature, scheduled to adjourn June 1, may end before increases in homelessness materialize.
About 20 advocates for family and children’s organizations were at the Legislature on Monday to testify for children’s programs and protest Gov. Jim Gibbons’ plan to reduce state spending by 9.3 percent from the budget approved two years ago.
Jan Gilbert, the legislative lobbyist for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said the Presidents Day holiday and poor weather may have kept the turnout low.
“These are families who are falling through the cracks,” Gilbert said. “They don’t come to a building like this. Who has time for it?”
During a news conference, Louise Helton, state director of Communities in Schools, urged the Legislature to spent more now on programs to keep students from dropping out of high school and becoming a greater cost to society later.
“We want Nevada to be the best place to live in, not the dropout factory of the United States,” she said.
According to her organization, just 45 percent of Nevada students graduate from high school on time, the lowest percentage in the nation, and far below the 70 percent national average.
Helton added that she knows homelessness and poverty in Nevada is increasing by the number of children her organization has served in the past year. The group has provided 5,422 immunizations and served 6,389 breakfasts to needy children.
“People now are working two or three part-time jobs,” Helton said. “They can’t find a full-time job. They are struggling to raise three kids. It is just getting worse.”
The families her organization serve earn little more than $14,000 a year.
Gilbert said the Legislature needs to restore the $2.3 billion that would keep spending at the same level as 2007.
Gibbons has proposed tax and other increases that raise more than $400 million, but his budget is still $1.8 billion less that what he estimated is needed to cover growth and retain services at the 2007 level.
“In hard times, people rely more on state services,” Gilbert said. “I hear people all the time say 'We just can’t throw money at the problem.’ I am here to say Nevada has never thrown money at the problem. This is a time when Nevada’s children need us. They need us to say 'I will pay more taxes.’ ”
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