One in 50 children in the U.S. is homeless each year, according to America's Youngest Outcasts, a new report from the National Center on Family Homelessness released on March 10. An astonishing 1.5 million homeless children! Chances are you've met a child who has spent time in the uncertain and violent world of people without homes. You may not have known - often they look very much like our own children. But the things our kids worry about - grades, video games, iphone or blackberry? - are very different from children who worry about their peers discovering their living situations.
According to the report, children experiencing homelessness have twice the rate of moderate to severe health conditions compared to middle class children, and twice the emotional problems. They struggle in school, with an average 16% lower proficiency in math and reading, and an estimated graduation rate below 25%. Many are cared for by single moms, and a large number are under the age of five.
The report ranks each of the 50 states according to how many children are homeless, their well-being, how many others are at risk of homelessness, and what policies are in place to support them. The states that ranked as the best were Connecticut, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Massachusetts. At the bottom of the rankings were: Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, New Mexico, Louisiana, Nevada, North Carolina and Florida.
The report's findings used data that were available in the summer of 2008. With our failing economy and the numbers of foreclosures and job layoffs that have occurred since, how many more children have been added to the ranks? I am struck by an assertion in the report that a couple working full-time minimum wage jobs each cannot afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment unassisted anywhere in the U.S. So where do families go when they lose their homes or their health or their jobs or their hope?
And what if we have reached compassion fatigue just as America's Youngest Outcasts is released? Is it possible that Americans are so tired of the bad economic news that homeless children become part of the gray landscape of the evening news that we turn off in order to laugh along with Jay Leno? I am hoping this isn't the case. We lose even one child at our own peril. And we lose 1.5 million children a year at a cost too high to calculate. The ugly truth is that it is very hard to come back from time spent on the streets or in a shelter or a car. My teenage daughter still suffers from nightmares of snipers who roamed the DC area when she was in elementary school. What if your child lived in a world where dangers lurked everywhere and there was no safe place to lay his head?
I urge you to read the full report at www.HomelessChildrenAmerica.org. It may change your life and will make it clear how you can change the lives of America's youngest outcasts.
(Full disclosure: I helped edit the report.)