Solution journalism: Providing a safety net and springboard to single mothers and their children

Section 1: The Problem

In the city of New Orleans, 47.2% of family households are run by single mothers, while only 8.7% of households are run by single dads. Statistically, the families led by single moms are significantly more likely to be living in poverty due, primarily, to the lack of “living wage” work opportunities afforded to women as well as the salary disparity that has historically existed between men and women. Although 67% of single mothers in New Orleans are currently employed, the city’s poverty rate for children remains at a low of 39%. This is due to the fact that low-wage jobs are common in New Orleans as 12% of the population earns less than $17,500 per year. As expected, females in New Orleans typically earn a lower income than men, with 64,00 women earning $17,500 a year. In 2013, New Orleans had a rate of single-mother households that was 14% higher than in the state of Louisiana and double the rate for the United States. In addition to placing an enormous level of stress on mothers who have to balance raising their kids while earning money, living in poverty has a major impact on the children themselves. As stated by Rebecca Catanello in her article on “”, “Poverty is depriving New Orleans children of healthy brain development and increasing the likelihood that their lives will be steeped in trauma and lifelong learning difficulties.” 

Hurricane Ida left many families in New Orleans with nowhere to go.

The large number of families raised by single-mothers living in poverty has been exacerbated by the fact that the city lies in a hurricane zone and has experienced numerous natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Ida in 2021. As stated by Emily Woodruff, “Rising housing costs and the continuous deluge of natural disasters made it harder for them, according to interviews researchers conducted.” Specifically, the population of single-mothers suffered the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as they were deprived of resources to prepare for and to respond to the lasting effects of the natural disaster. As a result, single mothers were forced to move their families away from New Orleans. In “Displaced Single Mothers in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina”, author Jennifer Tobin-Gurley states that “Three years after Katrina, critical shortages in low-cost housing and diminished social services for families in New Orleans continued to keep tens of thousands of poor and working people—and especially African Americans, single mothers, the elderly, and persons with disabilities—from returning to the city” (Tobin-Gurley 173). 

The COVID-19 pandemic has also placed considerable stress on families in New Orleans, specifically on women and women of color. As stated in “COVID-19 Is Exacerbating the Housing Crisis. See How These Women Are Fighting for Their Families”, “In New Orleans, Black women have long been hard hit by evictions, says Frank Southall of the New Orleans Renters Rights Assembly.” In addition Bakalar and Flun state “We know that 57% of everyone being evicted [before the pandemic] were Black women. Were mothers, were sisters. They were aunts, they were grandmothers” (Bakalar and Fynn). In order to observe the impacts of the pandemic, Filmmaker Kathleen Fylnn documented the lives of two single mothers in New Orleans who were deprived of reliable housing as a result. Flynn found that ultimately “The dire current reality is especially impacting women of color, who are often struggling to hold on to a safe place to live while also tending to their children’s most basic needs” (Bakalar and Fynn). 

Before June 24, 2022, abortions were legal in the state of Louisana up to 22 weeks gestation. However, the amount of clinics in the state kept decreasing as stated by Delaney Nolan, “Back in 1992, there were 17 abortion clinics in Louisiana. Then there were eleven. Then five. Then three”. In 2017, Louisiana had one abortion clinic per 363,228 women ages 15 to 49. In the same year, 94% of parishes in Louisiana had no abortion clinic, meaning that 72% of women were residents of a parish that did not contain a clinic. This alarming fact became a scarier reality on June 24, 2022, when the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The Supreme Courts decision made abortion illegal in 14 states, including Louisiana, while placing a ban in other states. This meant that the three abortion clinics that served the state of 4.6 million people in Louisana were forced to shut down. In “As abortion rights disappear, Louisianas poor climate for mothers and children comes into focus”, author Sam Karlin refers to Jan Moller, the head of the left-leaning Louisiana Budget Project, who believes that “the root causes of Louisiana’s grim climate for mothers and children can be traced back to poverty”, Moller also believes that “by almost any way you count it, Louisiana is one of the toughest places to have a kid and raise a kid”. 

In Louisiana, the issue of children with incarcerated parents is also a relevant factor, as 8% of youth in the state have a parent who has been in jail at some point in their life. As stated by Teresa Falgoust, “Louisiana has one of the highest rates of single parents in the country. We have dads who are non-custodial, who have had a big impact on their children’s lives, but who don’t necessarily live in the household”. This poses a major stress on families as “A recent survey by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights found that 65 percent of families with a parent in prison are unable to meet their basic needs such as food, housing, utilities and medical care.” Additionally, the high incarceration rates impacts the high poverty rate in the U.S. as Dr. Anthony found that poverty would have dropped by 20% in the last 24 years if incarceration had decreased. Instead, the poverty rate has increased by 500% in the US over the last 40 years, which contributes to the statistic that 27% of households in New Orleans live in poverty. 


Section 2: The Solution

Originally founded in 1993 in Minneapolis, Minnesota by Michael J. O’Connell, the Jeremiah Program (JP) was initiated to provide assistance to single mothers and their families in the hopes of getting out of poverty. As stated in the organization’s vision statement “JP envisions a world where poverty is no longer feminized; where race is not divorced from gender; where career and financial opportunities are not gentrified; and where women who experience poverty not only hold a seat at the table but hold the mic and curate the agenda.”

 In order to assist these families, the Jeremiah Program provides and allocates resources according to their five core pillars which include college access and career support, quality early childhood education, safe and affordable housing, empowerment, leadership and career training and a supportive community. By establishing a model of assistance guided by these pillars, the Jeremiah Program helps single-mothers and their families escape poverty. Driven by the belief that a single mother should not be forced to make the difficult decision to choose between “investing in herself or supporting her children”, the program provides assistance to help them achieve their familial goals without being placed in the position of having to make the binary choice between self and children. 

Although there are other programs dedicated to helping the lives of single mothers and their children, such as Helping Hands for Single Moms and Parents Without Partners, by providing support groups and financial assistance, the Jeremiah Program helps these families in many aspects. A major focus of the organization is focusing on the future success of these families, ensuring the single mothers are able to obtain a job while providing shelter and food for their children. 

In 1998, the first Jeremiah Program campus opened in the city of Minneapolis. Since then, the Jeremiah Program has expanded nationwide to cities including Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Brooklyn, Fargo-Moorhead, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, St, Paul and Rochester-Southeast MN. The organization currently has facilities in seven cities across the United States and continues to grow in order to improve the lives of single-parent families living in poverty. Currently, five of their campuses provide safe and affordable housing for mothers and their children. As illustrated in the Jeremiah Program 2020 Annual Report, 900 mothers and children were impacted by the organization and were equipped to lift themselves out of poverty. In addition, 545 children were given the opportunities to attend educational summer camps, remote learning opportunities and child care. The Annual Report also shared the promising statistics that 80% of the women they help are women of color as well as the fact that 100% of the parents that are part of Jeremiah Program are in pursuit of a college degree. A main reason for the success of the organization is the increase of net assets they received, increasing from $35,108,237 in 2019 to $43,148,490 in 2020. The majority of the funds come from private and public grants, as well as private donors. Jeremiah Program continues to expand as 374 new families were served in 2020, compared to 629 in 2021

Despite the success of the Jeremiah Program in 2020, the organization faced a major setback as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many in-person programs had to be suspended due to the risk of disease spread. In a letter to the community, the organization’s president and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chastity Lord, demonstrated the difficulties faced by the program by stating “The part-time jobs that used to fill the gaps in their budgets no longer exist. The public transportation routes they accessed have been drastically reduced or cut. In every city where we partner with communities, public schools have gone virtual. Mothers are trying to keep up their own studies while simultaneously caring for their children. Our childcare centers used to provide breakfast and lunch; many families are now responsible for every meal, requiring additional groceries at a time when shopping is a logistical and emotional nightmare.” As a result of the pandemic, the organization was forced to pause their in person programs. However, the Jeremiah Program overcame this by implementing a hybrid model. Through this new model, families are still able to receive therapy and childhood development programming through online platforms. 

However it is important to note that the Jeremiah Program does not take into account families that are run by aunts or grandmas. The mortality of single mothers is 1-74 per 100 people. As a result, 8% of children live with relatives such as aunts or grandparents. Although this statistic isn’t alarming, the Jeremiah Program must consider families who are cared for by aunts or grandmas as a result of maternal mortality and extend their programs to these families. 


Section 3: Implementation in New Orleans

My solution to helping improve the lives of single mothers and their children is to open a Jeremiah Program campus in the city of New Orleans. This would relieve the stress of single mothers who struggle to put food on their children’s plate and a roof over their head. The program in New Orleans would provide safe housing for single mothers and their children. The main focus of this facility would be finding mothers respectable jobs, while providing care and education for their children. In addition, families run by single mothers would have stability and proper resources in times of disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, the COVID-19 pandemic and other events that have been major setbacks. 

The abandoned Charity Hospital in New Orleans.

The difficulties associated with implementing this solution is finding a physical space as well as funding to support the organization. In order to implement this, the Jeremiah Program would need to find a safe facility for single-mother families to come to. This space would provide housing, education and therapy programs to families. New Orleans has several abandoned landmarks that can be used to implement this program. Some of these landmarks include Charity Hospital, Plaza Tower, Municipal Auditorium, Poland Avenue Navy Base, Former Holy Cross School, Lindy Boggs Medical Center, Lake Forest Plaza and Six Flags New Orleans. By doing this, the JP would ultimately repurpose a famous landmark in New Orleans by drastically improving the lives of families in need. 

The next step in implementing the Jeremiah Program facility in New Orleans is to secure proper funding. The New Orleans City Council recently announced the 2023 budget of $1.5 billion. The budget is split into categories in order to fund the New Orleans Police Department, infrastructure projects, the criminal justice system, as well as other groups. In 2018, the state of Minnesota granted the Jeremiah Program $11 million in order to build a new facility. If the city of New Orleans can allocate the same amount towards funding a campus in New Orleans, the struggling population of single mothers and their families will finally receive the help they need. One solution to securing money from the budget of New Orleans is to take away funds from areas where there is too much funding, such as property taxes and put it towards creating the Jeremiah Program. As found in the 2022 Annual Operating Budget of the City of New Orleans, the subtotal of property taxes was $161,465,058. If even a small percentage was taken out of this fund and given to the Jeremiah Program, more people would be helped in the end. 

The final step in implementing the Jeremiah Program is recruiting single mothers and their families. In order to do this, the organization must utilize social media, local journals and recruits at homeless shelters. Once the word is spread, the Jeremiah Program will change the lives of families who are living in poverty, providing opportunities that were previously unavailable.

Overall, creating a Jeremiah Program campus in New Orleans would be successful as it targets a specific group that is relevant in New Orleans. The population of single mothers and their children living in poverty continues to grow in the city due to the lack of resources they have and the natural disasters and events that leave them with nowhere to go. 


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