Juaquina Miller has finally found a place to call home. After a childhood in foster care followed by an itinerant adolescence, this is a luxury she has rarely enjoyed. She is 25 years old now, a single mum with two babies to provide for on an income of $306 (£195) a month. “I don’t know where we’d be without this place,” she says, sitting on a chair surrounded by kids’ toys in her apartment at the Girard Street Family Shelter in Washington. “I’ve been homeless since I was 17.”
The GSFS is one of many housing facilities across the US that provide a lifeline for the homeless population, which has swelled significantly in the years following the sub-prime housing crisis. It provides apartments to 20 homeless families with children, with on-site supportive services from substance abuse treatment to job preparation. “I have to be quick,” says Miller when we step into her living room. “I’ve got a class in a minute!” She says she wants to get a job in law enforcement.
Unfortunately, although it feels like home, the accommodation is temporary and she has overstayed the typical six-month stay. She has been on the list for permanent housing since 2007, and still waits. A couple of blocks away from the shelter, lawmakers on Capitol Hill this year passed a budget in which massive cuts were quietly made to the programmes that attempt to ameliorate the number of Americans sleeping rough or moving from place to place. Although Congress passed these cuts in March, analysts predict the impact will only start to be felt now.