After being laid off from his management job at a sailboat manufacturer in Marion, S.C., David Markham and his wife Cheryl lost their house, their car, and their health insurance. But what hurt them the most, Markham told HuffPost, was having to put all their belongings in storage, trek 900 miles across the country and move in with their adult son and daughter in East Lansing, Mich.
"My kids are supposed to move in with me and depend on me -- it's not supposed to be the other way around," said Markham, 50. "I feel like I have let my family down."
According to a report released Wednesday morning by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a 3 percent uptick in homelessness and a 20 percent increase in foreclosures from 2008 to 2009 contributed to a 12 percent increase in the number of families who had to "double up" in the homes of their extended family and friends.
"We are seeing that, with a large percentage of families that enter the homeless system, their last previous address was doubled up with another family," said Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. "So this obviously can be a precursor to homelessness, and the fact that it went up 12 percent in 2009 is obviously really alarming."
The nation's homeless population increased by about 20,000 people from 2008 to 2009, according to the NAEH report, and while 31 out of 50 states saw some increase in their homeless counts, the homeless population in Louisiana nearly doubled. About 4 in 10 homeless people were found to be living on the street, in a car, or in another place not intended for human habitation.
Roman told HuffPost that up until 2009, the number of homeless and doubled-up families increased had been decreasing since 2005, due in large part to a big push to improve the U.S. homeless assistance system by moving it away from bandaid strategies, such as shelters and soup kitchens, and more toward lasting solutions. But even improvements in the system could not overcome the double whammy effect of lingering unemployment and high housing costs on the working poor.
"The most surprising finding of this report was that the homelessness number didn't go up more in 2009, given how bad the economy has been and housing costs," she said. "I'm somewhat fearful for the 2010 numbers, because I'm afraid we might see them go up even more."
One major problem facing the growing population of "doubled-up" families is that they are currently ineligible for federal assistance through the primary homeless housing programs.
The Homeless Children and Youth Act, introduced in Congress by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) last week, would expand the Department of Housing and Urban Development's definition of "homeless" so that more children living doubled up and in hotels could be eligible for its homeless assistance programs.
"During the 2008-2009 school year, over 72 percent or approximately 956,914 children and youth who were identified as homeless by the Department of Education did not qualify for housing support under HUD's current definition," said Biggert's office in a release.
So far, federal assistance has been inadequate to meet the needs of homeless and doubled-up families, said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.
"It is time for our lawmakers, and the public, to treat homelessness like the human rights crisis it is," she said. "In the new Congress, rather than cutting safety net funds, we must focus on adding more funding for homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing."
Click HERE for a PDF of the report.