- As of 2010, the U.S. had over 1.5 million homeless children, most under the age of 7, and current trends suggest that number has probably gone higher in 2012.
- In 2012, 3 years after the end of the recession, New York City experienced record numbers of homeless and homeless children. Other large cities have probably also experienced similar increases.
- The risk of emotional, physical and developmental difficulties rises substantially for homeless children.
- Support for homeless children can negate the harmful effects of homelessness, but only if intervention begins early.
In December of 2011, the National Center on Family Homelessness, in one of the most comprehensive studies1 on homeless families and children to date, using data from 2010, found that over 1.5 million children, or 1 out of 45, most under the age of 7, had no stable home, with most living in motels, on camping grounds, grouped with other struggling families, or in emergency shelters. The same study also showed that child homelessness increased 33% between 2007 and 2010.
While the NCFH has yet to release a report for the years 2011 & 2012, local child homelessness trends, at least in big cities, suggest either sustained record high numbers or a continued increase in family homelessness. In September of this year, 2012, the New York Daily News2 reported that the number of homeless children in city emergency shelters had risen to 19,000, a raw number not seen in the city since the great depression. NYC saw a record number of homeless adults this year, over 40,000. And in June of 2012, a U.S. Education Department study reported3 over 1,000,000 homeless students in the United States in 2011, a number never seen before, and this has put unprecedented strain on both social and educational services4.
Consequences of Homelessness for Children
Homeless children, not surprisingly, suffer from sleeping and eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems far above the normal. They also experienced more chronic and acute physical health problems. They lack the normal social support structure that non-homeless children have, such as regular attention from aunts, uncles, grandparents and neighbors. They also lack the benefit that comes from consistent interaction with church groups and other civic youth organizations5.
The educational & developmental consequences rival the emotional and physical consequences. Homeless children struggle in just about every area of learning; they score lower on standardized reading and math test, even when researchers control for income levels; and they score lower on standardized IQ and emotional intelligence tests6.
Finally, these negative consequences increase the likelihood of future homelessness as these children grow up.
What You Can Do To Help & Bring Joy to Children of Homeless Families
“Research shows that later interventions are likely to be less successful – and in some cases are ineffective” says Jack Shonkoff, Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. “Homelessness is providing the foundation for a lot of things that are going to cost society a lot of money later.”7
So, early intervention can negate the devastating consequences of homelessness on children, and most of that intervention takes the form of increased time and attention from understanding and caring adults. Most established social service organizations have programs that help homeless children, like Eva’s Village Hope Residence Program, but increased demand has stretched these organizations in terms of supplies, volunteer time and money. You can help in the following way:
- If you live near Paterson NJ, there are many ways to volunteer at our Hope Residence for Mothers & Children. Click here to learn more. Also your charitable dollars can make all the difference to young mothers and children in need.
- Do you belong to a club or church? You can help arrange to take homeless children on a field trip to the zoo, children’s theatre, museums, special events like parades, and physical activities, such as ice skating or bowling.
- You can also volunteer to coach homeless children in soccer, baseball, etc.
- Collect children’s books from flea markets, or recycle your own, and donate them to a local group or organization that helps homeless children. Through your church or other civic organization, you can organize a drive to collect or purchase needed supplies
- Contact your local Big Brother or Sister organization and specifically request assignment with a homeless child.
- Most of us experience Christmas as a magic time, but most homeless families experience it as a time of pain and sadness. Many groups, such as Eva’s Village, hold special holiday events and drives for the homeless and especially homeless children. They need help with money donations, toys, gift-wrapping, and everything else that will bring joy to a homeless child.
1. “America’s Youngest Outcasts 2010.” National Center on Family Homelessness, December 2011.
2. “Number of children in city’s homeless shelters hits 19,000.” Denis Slattery and Tina Moore, New York Daily News, September 9, 2012.
3. Education for Homeless Children and Youths Program – Data Collection Summary. U.S. Department of Education, June 2012.
4. Number of homeless students surges, putting strain on schools. Deshina Emmanuel, Chicago Sun Times, January 6, 2012.
5. Record Homelessness: Impact on Children. Giselle Routhier, Policy Analyst, CoalitionForTheHomeless.Org, November 21, 2011.
6. When the Bough Breaks: The Effects of Homelessness on Young Children. Marci McCoy-Roth, Bonnie B. Mackintosh and David Murphey, ChildTrends.Org, February 2012.
7. A Future for Homeless Children 2011. Facing Change – Documenting America.
- The Campaign to End Child Homelessness
- Photographers Blog. An American homeless family. Lucy Nicholson, March 9, 2012, Reuters.
- Big Brothers Big Sisters
- Lucian Perkins: A Future for homeless children from Facing Change on Vimeo.