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Taking Aim at America’s Married and Homeless

Prevention strategies to reduce homelessness

With couples and families hard hit by the recession facing increased threats of homelessness, relationship skills training is becoming key to prevention.

by Rachel Schindler

More than a third of married Americans are worried about not being able to meet expenses, according to the “Survey of Marital Generosity,” conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia. The study found that one in eight married couples have had their homes foreclosed or are struggling to make mortgage payments.

“The recession clearly brought economic hardship to many American married adults aged 18-45,” the study reported, with over half of all married Americans facing increased stress related to employment, finances, housing or a combination of the three.

Bradford Wilcox National Marriage Project University of Virginia

Bradford Wilcox led the National Marriage Project study.

For many couples, economic hardship caused them to strengthen their marriages, researchers found. The study reported that “about 29 percent of married Americans – the same amount who agree that the recession brought financial stress to their marriage – agree that the recession has caused them to deepen their commitment to their marriage.”

Stephanie Berman-Eisenberg, President of Carrfour, Florida’s largest provider of supportive housing, said the Miami nonprofit has seen an increase in applications for housing from young married couples.

“We’re seeing more young, married couples struggling to avoid homelessness,” Berman-Eisenberg said. Although Miami and other major cities are racing to complete construction of thousands of additional units and provide supportive services to reduce homelessness, Berman-Eisenberg said prevention strategies are vital.

Last year, Carrfour began encouraging their 1,300 residents in Miami-Dade County to participate in PAIRS Essentials classes to improve relationship skills. Follow-up research showed a sharp decrease in the frequency of financial disagreements and significant improvements in relationship and marital satisfaction.

“Once couples learn practical skills to improve communication, understand and relieve emotional stress, and problem-solve,” they are better able to make decisions to safeguard relationships at home, work, and in the community,” Berman-Eisenberg said.

She said single residents have also shown increased interest in learning relationship skills to strengthen potential job performance, improve cooperation among neighbors, and reconnect with loved ones.

“Marriage and family breakdown is almost always a contributor to homelessness and poverty,” Berman-Eisenberg said. “Early investments in skills training to strengthen marriages, families, and other relationships creates layers of protection. Individuals with strong relationship skills are also better able to find and keep jobs,” she added.

Francisco Robledo has taught PAIRS relationship and marriage education classes to more than 3,000 people in Miami-Dade County, including many struggling to avoid homelessness.

“Financial challenges have led many couples to realize the most important investment they can make is in their own marriage and families,” Robledo said. “For many, the silver lining is that their relationships are now better than ever.”

“Happy people in stable relationships make better decisions, have a better chance of getting a job, and are more likely to get through the recession with their families and marriages intact,” Robledo added.

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February 2011
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