Housing and Homeless

UMOM takes big steps to address large-family homelessness

The largest family shelter organization in Phoenix is looking to better deal with an increasing number of bigger families in need of assistance

PHOENIX, Ariz. (STN) – As the number of people grappling with homelessness continues to rise across the country and here in the greater Phoenix area, the numbers reveal a disconcerting trend: an increasing amount of large families finding themselves without homes and in dire need of shelter.

According to the leadership at UMOM New Day Centers, a nonprofit in Phoenix committed to aiding homeless single mothers and families, 30% of the waitlist for its family emergency shelters consists of families with five or more members.

“What we’re observing now is the emergence of multi-generational families,” stated UMOM Chief Programs Officer Mila Valle. “[This involves] mothers bringing in their adult children, and adult children bringing in their parents.”

Valle’s remarks were part of a round-table discussion on family homelessness during the December episode of “It Happens at STN,” where she was joined by UMOM COO Monique Lopez and McQuaid Mission producers UMOM CEO Jackson Fonder and Human Services Campus CEO Amy Schwabenlender.

Watch the video below to learn more about the effort to house large families:

A significant factor contributing to the surge in large-family homelessness can be traced back to 2021 and the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. As businesses grappled with survival and layoffs increased, families initially moved in with each other and later found themselves desperate to secure housing.

“As evictions started to rise, families wanted to stay together,” explained Valle. “So, we saw a surge in our waitlist of large families, and being the largest family shelter [in Phoenix], we had to take action.”

Along with the typical challenges of assisting individuals experiencing homelessness, there are two big, additional issues when aiding larger families.

The first issue revolves around the availability of shelter space.

“We definitely need more shelter units that can comfortably accommodate families of five, six, seven, and even upwards of nine, that we see come into UMOM,” said Lopez. “We’re actively trying to online more units that can support large families.”

Lopez highlighted that UMOM has recently added 16 shelter units capable of comfortably accommodating a family of nine, with construction set to start on another 16 early in 2024.

“We’re trying to be strategic in ways that we can be reflective of what the list is showing,” Lopez noted. “We want to meet that need.”

The second significant challenge involves finding permanent residences for these larger families.

“When dealing with a household of four or five adults, it’s different than one adult,” emphasized Valle. “Everyone has different needs. They want to stay together.”

However, available housing space for larger families is limited, particularly when difficulties arise, such as the inability to gather sufficient funds for a rent down payment on a bigger home.

“That means talking to the landlord and saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got this household, we’ve got this issue. How can you best support us and this family?’” Valle explained.

Lopez emphasized the importance of keeping large families in mind when addressing systemic homelessness.

“The waitlist for these families of five, six, and seven can stretch for months because there aren’t enough large shelter units to meet their needs,” she concluded. “It’s not always as visible as other segments of the homeless population, so just keep talking about it.”

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