Last month the U.S. Department of Education issued their most recent report on the education of homeless children. The results -- which even the agency admits are incomplete -- paint a bleak picture of the nation and its glut of homeless kids.
When it comes to homelessness, the numbers are only as good as the reporting mechanisms, the diligence of the agencies and school departments involved, and the courage of the parents who must admit to authorities that they and their children are homeless.
Many states deem homelessness as a form of neglect and place homeless kids into foster care. Living in a state like this -- or fearing that one does -- keeps parents from seeking services for their homeless children. That fear keeps the number of homeless children artificially low.
With the caveat acknowledged and accepted that the numbers the Department of Education issued last month are still inadequate, the staggering figures begin setting the record straight about the house-less pandemic that has struck American families living in poverty. Still, to a large extent, the National Center for Homeless Education study corrects the false numbers that have hindered Congressional understanding of the magnitude of the problem plaguing the country's future as more and more kids grow up homeless.
Without Congress being aware there cannot be adequate understanding and/or funding at the offices and agencies designated to eradicate the scourge of homelessness. In their 2009 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, Secretary Shaun Donovan and his Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) crowed that homelessness was down and that the total number of homeless folks in the nation was around 1.56 million persons. That's roughly one of every two hundred people.
But across the hill in the nation's capital, the Department of Education's numbers don't jibe with that assessment. Their recent report puts the number of homeless children and youth - as tallied by various educational mechanisms -- at 1,065,794. And that number doesn't count babies or those aforementioned who we know are hiding from the authorities.
The U.S. Census Bureau statistics have the number of children in school listed at somewhere around 72 million. So instead of HUD's estimate that one in two hundred people are homeless, the number is closer to one in seventy-two. Accepting that a lower percentage of children are homeless than adults, one can extrapolate the ratio of homeless folks in the United States to a figure much closer to 2% or one in a 60. That means that more than four and a half million folks are without adequate shelter and safety from harm.
Diane Nilan -- advocate for homeless children and director of Hear Us which produces documentaries highlighting the plight of these young people -- commented on the Dept. of Ed.'s latest report, "After proving we've got over a million homeless kids, many with parents, not only is government poised to shred the remaining threads of the safety net -- beleaguered shelters, but HUD continues to deny that these kids are even homeless."
Nilan is commenting on state and federal initiatives targeting the very programs that help the nation's most vulnerable. For example, while the Feds target food stamp programs, cutting assistance to the poor to protect military spending and states like Pennsylvania eliminate general assistance funding as Maine cuts elderly drug prescription assistance.
Nilan continued explaining what she encounters as she travels the nation advocating for kids, noting that there is a whole new population of financially bereft being added to the long struggling pool of chronically impoverished in the U.S., "Federal resources lag seriously behind the constantly growing house-less and resource-challenged underclass and formerly middle income households tumble into abject poverty."
What the Feds neglect -- if assistance programs are to continue -- the states must assume as their responsibility. Perhaps with adequate information gathering, like that which the Department of Education's recent report provides, the national priorities can be reset. The children growing up in shelters, cars, hotel rooms, and in hiding are the foundation upon which the United States will build its future national identity. That is because disregard and denial of the scope of the problem has been our identity to date.
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