Fact of the Week: Child Homelessness at Historic High in U.S.
Imagine an elementary school classroom with roughly 30 kids in it, seated at their desks. Pick out and focus on one kid until you can see his or her face. Now imagine that kid is homeless. And not just that kid, but a kid just like him or her in every single classroom or day care center like it across America. In 2013, nearly 2.5 million children – one out of every 30 kids – experienced homelessness in the U.S. That number is up 8 percent from 2012 and up a staggering 54 percent from 2010.
America’s Youngest Outcasts, a new report from the National Center on Family Homelessness, uses data from the U.S. Department of Education’s annual count of homeless children in public schools and the U.S. Census Bureau in compiling their report. They found that the number of children experiencing homelessness rose in 31 states and the District of Columbia from 2012 to 2013. In addition to the raw data, the report includes state rankings based on the extent of child homelessness, well-being of children, risk for family homelessness, and state policy response. In addition to an interactive map showing how well each state did, you can view and download state-specific sheets with lots of information that will be a great resources for advocates and policymakers. Check out the map below and a sample of the state sheets at the end of this post.
Numerous previous studies have shown that children who grow up poor are more likely to suffer from poor health, developmental delays, behavioral problems, and lower academic achievement. The National Center on Family Homelessness notes that up to 25 percent of homeless preschool children have mental health problems, and that this increases to 40 percent among homeless school-age children. The unrelenting stress of being homeless also has negative effects on the parents. Further, the National Campaign for Youth Shelter notes that over 500,000 youth experience homelessness each year, but there are now only 4,000 youth shelter beds nationwide.
The authors of the report conclude that effective responses to child homelessness must include safe, affordable housing solutions with comprehensive support services that assess and address the needs of all family members (for more on why this approach is effective, see our recent post, Three Steps to a Two-Generation Approach).
As we noted in our national report on poverty released in September, housing vouchers lifted 2.8 million people — including 1 million children — above the poverty line in 2012, but only one in four households eligible for federal rental assistance receives it because of limited funding. Additionally, sequestration and further cuts have caused the loss of 100,000 housing vouchers through July 2014. When Congress comes back to DC next week, they’ll resume work on the budgets for the rest of the fiscal year for housing vouchers and other crucial programs. Whether or not they’ll increase the funds for housing vouchers remains to be seen.
We also know that the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit are the most effective anti-poverty programs for children, but if key provisions to these tax credits aren’t extended or made permanent by Congress before 2017, 7.7 million children will fall into or deeper into poverty. Congress also has the chance to act on these making credits permanent in this lame duck session.
As we approach Thanksgiving and think of what we’re thankful for, it’s also critical that we remind Congress of those who have less and need the help the federal government should be providing. Nearly 2.5 million children – including the one whose face you imagined when you started reading this – are waiting.