In 2009, The National Center on Family Homelessness released America’s Youngest Outcasts: State Report Card on Child Homelessness. This report ranks all 50 states on addressing child homelessness, based on a series of factors including extent of homelessness, child well-being, health, availability of services, and state planning initiatives. At the time of release, 1.5 million—one in 50 children—were homeless annually in the United States. According to this report, the state of Mississippi ranked 41st out of 50 states with 11,300 children homeless each year. By 2008-2009, that number had grown to approximately 12,100 children and youth.
Following the release of America’s Youngest Outcasts, the Mississippi Campaign to End Child Homelessness (Mississippi Campaign) was launched to galvanize the public and political will to end this crisis in Mississippi. In 2011, the Mississippi Campaign created the Mississippi Plan to End Child Homelessness (Mississippi Plan) in hopes to increase awareness, inform policies, and improve programs and services with the ultimate goal of preventing and ending child and family homelessness. This article outlines the steps taken to create this plan.
Creating the Mississippi Plan
- Step 1: Gathering Facts and Feedback
The first activity undertaken towards creating the Mississippi Plan was a Listening Tour. The Mississippi Campaign visited five communities in different regions of the state over the course of one week. Community leaders, service providers, advocates, and policymakers gathered and discussed ways to prevent and end child and family homelessness. A series of discussion questions were used to help facilitate the meetings and elicit feedback from participants on the challenges they face while trying to address family and child homelessness in Mississippi. The information gathered from these meetings helped shape the recommendations section of the Mississippi Plan.
- Step 2: Including Consumer Experiences
Involving consumers is an important step in the process of creating a plan to end homelessness. Following the Listening Tour, the Mississippi Campaign facilitated focus groups with homeless parents at four different family shelters. Parents were asked about their experiences being homeless and how homelessness affected their children. Hearing and documenting these stories brought first-hand experience to the process. The voices of parents experiencing homelessness play an integral role in the Mississippi Plan.
- Step 3: Involving Key Stakeholders
To assist with drafting the plan, the Mississippi Campaign formed a steering committee made up of key stakeholders including policymakers, educators, advocates, homeless service providers, and others. The Mississippi Campaign Steering Committee reviewed drafts of the Mississippi Plan throughout the various writing stages. Members of the Steering Committee are crucial champions of the Mississippi Plan. In addition to their advisory roles, committee members act as proponents of the Plan and for the Mississippi Campaign in general.
- Step 4: Releasing the Plan
Once the Mississippi Plan was finalized and printed, the Mississippi Campaign and Steering Committee organized an event at the State Capitol Building to release the plan. Homeless service providers, children’s advocates, community leaders, and officials from across the state were invited to participate. Media outlets were contacted to garner public attention. Copies of the report were given to all who attended.
Writing a statewide plan to end child homelessness requires a well thought-out process. Key stakeholders and consumers need to be identified and included in drafting the plan language. Champions both in the public and service sectors are necessary for the plan to gain traction in the public arena. Writers of the plan must understand the relationships and challenges the stakeholders face. To learn more about different plans to end homelessness, or the Campaign to End Child Homelessness, please visit The Campaign to End Child Homelessness and The National Center on Family Homelessness.
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