USA Today reported that one in every 45 children living in the USA—about 1.6 million children—were living on the street, in homeless shelters or doubled up with other families in 2011. They also reported that this represented a 33% increase from a previous census in 2007. This may have been caused by the rapid economic decline of the 2000’s, which was characterized by both extreme budget cuts and a lack of affordable housing for American families.
The Education Department reported that these homeless children might fare best in Vermont, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Maine. They also found areas in the Southern states where poverty lines were at their lowest including Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas. Arizona, California and Nevada—states that had notable foreclosures and job losses during the recession—also proved to be part of the lowest tier of poverty regarding these displaced children. More recent research is necessary to determine that these rates of homelessness are not increasing, as I could generally not gather information from after the 2009 recession.
Doorways, a homelessness aid organization, reported that homeless children are sick four times as often as middle class children and also have higher rates of acute and chronic illnesses (familyhomelessness.org provides more statistics on the types of illnesses these children face). It is possible that these health issues may be directly caused by the food that is available (or better, unavailable) to homeless children, whether on the streets or in shelters. First, these children may not receive enough food to develop or grow properly and malnutrition is absolutely responsible for numerous physical health problems in homeless individuals. However, it is furthermore reported that these children have higher rates of obesity due to nutritional deficiencies. This means that the (minimal?) food that these children are provided is less nutritious than the average meal recommended for developing children.
Families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, accounting for about 41% of the nations homeless in 2009 according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. Many of these families and children have expectedly experienced trauma prior to becoming homeless, and homelessness itself it another clear source of trauma for them. More often than not, these children suffer from emotional and/or behavioral problems because of this stress that they have endured from young ages. These children undoubtedly go without proper healthcare to treat these pertinent problems. Homeless children between the ages of six and seventeen struggle considerably with high rates of mental health problems and both of these may contribute to learning difficulties in homeless children (doorwaysva.org).
One organization reports that homeless children, if enrolled in school, are four times as likely to have developmental delays than other students their age and also twice as likely to have learning disabilities. I cannot imagine how hard it would be to just go to school everyday, despite transportation difficulties and visible knowledge gaps, if I did not have a place to call home, or simply a place to do my homework. It is hard enough for parents to motivate kids, provided with enough food to eat, to go to school and appreciate the opportunity to learn. Without a supporting family, physically supported by the home they live in, it is hard to imagine an education anywhere beyond middle school (and forget the possibility of college). Then, the limited number of homeless children that are willing to regularly attend school may sometimes be turned down from an education because they do not have proper school or medical records. Others may not enroll children without a home address and schools do not have sufficient transportation to provide to and from the shelters. If the child is successful in enrolling, relocation is then common for homeless families depending on their immediate conditions.
My heart goes out to these children and even if not in the most desolate areas, I have personally witnessed a fair share of childhood poverty in Easton, Pennsylvania. Athlete’s C.A.R.E. continues to provide relief for such families, while also promoting education and community service in the local community through area middle schools, because ultimately, these children are the next generation of Americans, of service leaders, educators, athletes, even parents. We believe raising awareness to such issues is an important start to solving them. We encourage everyone to get out and C.A.R.E.
By Mackenzie Larsen