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Number of Homeless Children is On the Rise

February 12, 2020

By Ileen Henderson, National Director of Bright Spaces

It is probably not a surprise that the numbers of both children and families experiencing homelessness is rising. Increasing rents and an overall shortage of affordable housing has forced thousands across the country to live in caravans, cars, doubled up with family, or in inadequate and substandard housing.

As our economy flourishes for some, factories and other labor and service industries are closing down, health care costs are rising, and unskilled workers are pouring into an unregulated and insecure gig economy. Many parents are caught choosing between rent, food, or health care, and rent often loses out.

In this recent BBC article, data from the recently released Federal Data Summary of the years from 2015-16 to 2017-18 written by the UNC Greensboro National Center for Homeless Education is alarming. According to this report, the number of school children (3-5 years old and K-Grade 13) who reported experiencing homelessness increased by 15% to more than 1.5 million in 2017-18.

Some of the alarming findings:

  • 12% reported living in shelters
  • 7 % were living in hotels or motels
  • 74% reported being ‘doubled up’
  • 7% were defined as ‘unsheltered’ (living in cars, abandoned buildings, places not meant for humans to live). This was an astounding increase of 137%!

As we have learned the impact of housing insecurity is well documented.  In this report, under 29% of the school-age children achieved proficiency in reading, math, and science.  This is likely due to a combination of chronic absenteeism, food insecurity, and the detrimental impact of trauma on executive function.  Lack of stability and support create disruptions to a child’s education which also threaten their social and emotional development.

Programs for at risk children in schools and in shelters need to have the resources to focus on literacy, basic math, and enhanced reading comprehension. They need to offer homework assistance, tutoring, reading mentors, storytelling, arts and crafts, field trips, and educational games. With ongoing individualized attention promoting improved learning and academic achievement, as well as providing stable, supportive relationships with caring accomplished adult role models, we can begin to address this insidious danger to our next generation.