August 19, 2022

Indian River Community Foundation Internship Report

Jeff Pickering and Camren Clarke

According to Indian River Indicators, last year there were more than 400 children identified as homeless in the School District of Indian River County. Based on data and information collected in a 2019 Community Needs Assessment along with current information from Indian River Indicators, Indian River Community Foundation (IRCF) and other community stakeholders have observed that certain populations of residents are not accessing or utilizing eligible public benefits to the extent that they are available. These include public benefits such as the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, among others. 

One population that IRCF believes may be helped the most by these benefits is homeless children and their families. This summer, IRCF hired Camren Clarke as an intern to research the issue of the homeless children population in Indian River County and to assess and inventory the current public benefits that are eligible to homeless children and their families.

During his internship Camren had the following opportunities:

  • To interview homeless parents and their case managers to understand how benefits are currently applied for and/or where they may be missed.
  • To interview representatives from the United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program to understand how free tax preparation services might help homeless parents to apply for eligible benefits.
  • To recommend improvements to the Homeless Children‘s Foundation’s current process for assisting its clients to apply for and obtain as many benefits as they are eligible for.

Camren observed that even when a homeless parent has previously earned an income, during a crisis their primary focus is food and shelter, not their tax return. However, if these individuals have held a job within the past year, they are most likely eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Many individuals and families are couch-surfing, staying in their vehicles, and sleeping on the streets in Indian River County. Meanwhile, public benefits are available, yet often remain unclaimed due to barriers such as lacking a permanent mailing address. Camren’s research causes us to reflect on what we can do better as a community to help homeless individuals receive the help they need and deserve. The benefits are there and rightfully theirs but just out of reach.

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