On May 3,2011 The Kansas City Star announced the opening of a new housing project called Pemberton Park. If the reader didn’t look too closely, one would think it was an indication of economic recovery. Instead when one of the first tenants announced, “It is a piece of heaven right here on earth” this reader stopped for a closer look. Pemberton Park was actually another in a very hopeful trend to help grandfamilies in our country find decent safe affordable housing.
In 1999 Boston, the first city to recognize the need for housing grandfamilies struggling under the extra economic burden of caring for their grandchildren, opened up Grandfamilies House the first housing project of its kind in the nation. Two years later the Boston Housing Authority opened up a similar model in a different area Mayor Thomas M. Menino said at the time “Not only is this project bringing back needed vacant, public housing apartments, but it is also providing a needed service for grandparents raising grandchildren in our city.”
Since then the need to help these grandfamilies has only grown into what The United States Office of Personal Management and others have called a” silent epidemic.” Epidemic because the social ills of divorce, drug and alcohol abuse along with mental illness, HIV/Aids or incarceration of parents, teenage mothers who are not equipped to care for their offspring have created a situation where grandparents are needed to step in and fill the parental void. When you add to that the cases of military deployment, the economic downturn that has caused parents to leave their children behind as they seeking work in other locations and in the worst scenario the death of a parent, the critical situation becomes clear. It is also considered a “Silent” epidemic because too few are bringing the great need to the publics attention.
According to the latest 2010 census 4.9 million grandchildren are living in the care of their grandparents, up from the 4.5 million of a decade ago. These “Grandfamilies”, as they are now referred to provide a great service, not only for their grandchildren, but for the community at large as they serve as a buffer between their grandchildren and the foster care system which saves the taxpayers millions of dollars.
One of the greatest needs of a grandfamily with very limited resources is in housing. There was some recognition to this need with the introduction of the Legacy Act: living equitably, grandparents aiding children and youth proposed in June of 2003 by Hon. Michael E. Capuano of Massachusetts. Although this act was not passed in its entirety, some of its provisions were added to the American Dream Downpayment Act, which after passing both the House and Senate was signed into law by President Bush on December 16th of 2003. This Act requires HUD to “ implement national demonstration projects that provide opportunities within HUD’s Section 202 program to develop housing specifically for grandparents and other relatives raising children.”
Other states have been encouraged by this legislation to develop combinations of federal, state and private funding to create other Grandfamily housing projects around the country: Champlain Village in Detroit, Fiddler’s Annex in Smithville, Tennessee, Roseland Grandfamily Apartments in Urban Chicago, Kinship Village in Cleveland, Hartford’s Grandfamilies Housing Program, Grandfamilies Place of Phoenix, Grandparent’s Houses in Baton Rouge, Grandparent Apartments in the South Bronx, and Clare Courts in Baltimore. And as previously mentioned “the little piece of heaven” Pemberton Park in Kansas City, the newest addition to the list. These Projects ,include not just housing, but needed supportive social services too. GrandFamilies House in Boston, the oldest of the group, for example provides an on-site resident services coordinator, live in house manager, educational services and help with obtaining additional resources, transportation computer learning center and tutoring.
All these cities should be commended at being at the forefront of this trend. But there is so much need and so many more opportunities for other cities and other states to join them to make this trend a permanent movement.
It is also time to not only help but to recognize the incredible contribution grandparents are making by to help some of the at- risk children of our nation grow up to become healthy adults.
These are indeed GRANDFAMILIES!