Our education system focuses on many essential factors intended to create a platform for success for our children. But far too often we overlook the undeniable presence of childhood poverty. The children behind these numbers may be invisible to some, but nevertheless the numbers are shockingly high.
The National Center on Family Homelessness reported that 1 in 45 children experience homelessness each year. This number amounts to a staggering 1.6 million children in America. Reports also indicate that 71 percent of homeless children are "doubled up" (living with friends, family or nonrelatives for economic reasons), placing them among the 6.8 million people who stay in living situations they do not control. As such, they could eventually find themselves in a shelter or ultimately on the street.
America's homeless children are mostly unseen, but they are counted. The troubling part is that these numbers have been climbing for some time now.
In the 2011 school year, enrollment statistics in preschools and K-12 programs reported a figure of 1,168,354 children known to be homeless. These trends show a sharp increase in this figure over the last few years. TheAtlanticCities.com recently reported that this issue is one of national concern, with 43 states reporting recent increases in the number of homeless children. California, New York, Texas and Florida are among the hardest hit.
In the nation's capital alone, the Public School System reports that over 3,000 of its students are known to be living in homelessness.
So, who are these children and what specific challenges are they facing?
Many of these children are very young and are accompanied by adults. Others are under-aged teenagers facing the perils of the street on their own as they struggle to finish high school. Children who experience homelessness oftentimes grow up in quite traumatic conditions and, as a result, may be more likely to suffer from chronic health problems. They are also more likely to be delayed in their emotional development.
In some countries, child homelessness is graphic, brutal and heart-wrenching. Malnourished children live on the streets in complete neglect and at risk for severe injuries. In the United States, the phenomenon is inconspicuous, veiled -- even hard to fathom somehow. But it is real, nevertheless.
Our subtle acceptance of this silence is why it is vital for all of us to talk about it, lest it be forgotten.
The Opening Doors Plan, released by the federal government in 2010, calls for extinguishing family, youth and child homelessness by 2020. This goal can be achieved only if we set our minds on building powerful systems that will catch at-risk children, youth and adults before they become destabilized.
New prevention and rapid rehousing programs have yielded excellent results in a number of American cities. There is a substantial need for more of these programs in order to end this national problem.
More of us should be thinking about direct and practical ways to help children living in homelessness in our midst. You can start by supporting your local organizations working with homeless youth and families. These organizations know firsthand the challenges they face and also know how best you can help.
As we prepare our homes for the holidays, let's all commit to doing at least one thing to help a child without a home. Each commitment we make, no matter how small, helps us in our fight to end homelessness among children.
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