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Homelessness through the eyes of children

We all know homelessness is a problem in the United States. Many are even aware that the numbers are on the rise, but do we realize that children are part of these growing numbers?

We all know homelessness is a problem in the United States. Many are even aware that the numbers are on the rise. Yet, the majority of people find it easier to ignore the situation rather than do anything about it.

What makes that choice a bit easier to live with is the fact that most Americans are rarely confronted with homelessness up close and personal. Usually only when approached by the lone man or woman begging them for a handout as they're on the way to dinner in the city or rushing to catch a train to the suburbs after work.

They may even assume these people wouldn't be homeless if they'd only stop drinking, abusing drugs, stay on their medications, or even better - get a job. They can further  fool themselves into thinking that most of the homeless are there because of their own lack of willpower combined with a lifetime of bad choices.

Think again. The face of homelessness is changing, and it's the face of a child.

America's Youngest Outcasts: A Report Card on Child Homelessness, a report published by the National Center on Family Homelessness found:

  1. Homelessness among children increased 8 percent nationally

  2. A staggering 2.5 million children are now homeless each year in America.

  3. This historic high represents one in every 30 children in the United States.

  4. Child homelessness increased in 31 states and the District of Columbia from 2012 to 2013.

  5. Children are homeless in every city, county, and state—every part of our country.

Major causes of homelessness for children in the U.S. include:

  1. nation's high poverty rate

  2. lack of affordable housing across the nation

  3. racial disparities

  4. the challenges of single parenting

  5. traumatic experiences, especially domestic violence, that precede and prolong homelessness for families

Finding equitable solutions often fall to the individual states. Fortunately, and perhaps surprisingly, Pennsylvania is a leader in this effort, recently ranked 13th in the nation.

As stated in, Meeting the Education Needs of Pennsylvania's Homeless Children and Youth, published by the State's Department of Education this year, the unrelenting stress experienced by parents, most of whom are women parenting alone, may contribute to long-term residential instability, unemployment, ineffective parenting, and poor health.

The impact of homelessness on young children, especially infants, is devastating and may lead to changes in their developing brain architecture that can interfere with learning, emotional self-regulation, cognitive skills, and social relationships throughout their lifetime.

Adding to the problem is that most homeless families are headed by young parents, in their 20s, with low levels of education which can be a significant predictor of how successfully parents structure their home environments; interact with their children; influence their children's educational development; and foster their academic success.

Children who experience homelessness can have fragile relationships with their parents and limited access to early developmental opportunities.

Effective responses to child homelessness must include:

  1. Safe affordable housing.

  2. Education and employment opportunities.

  3. Comprehensive needs assessments of all family members.

  4. Services that incorporate trauma-informed care.

  5. Attention to identification, prevention, and treatment of major depression in mothers

  6. Parenting supports and education for mothers and fathers.

  7. Research to identify evidence-based programs and services.

  8. Interventions that strengthen parent-child relationships

  9. Easy access to quality early childhood programs and services

  10. Interventions that strengthen parent-child relationships

  11. Easy access to quality early childhood programs and services

While city, state, and the federal government provide the bulk of funding for most of these interventions and program;  government can't be expected to shoulder the entire burden alone. Especially now with severely limited financial resources.

This effort needs more support for the large national child and family servicing organizations to the small hardworking community-based agencies located in every town and every city across the nation, and don't underestimate the power you have.

You and your children can make a real difference right in your very own community, and perhaps the perfect place to start in this region is at Cradles to Crayons in Conshohocken.

Cradles to Crayons served over 55,000 children aged 0-12 with the everyday essentials they need to thrive, while providing tangible volunteer experiences for individuals 6-86 in 2014, said Michal Smith, executive director of the non-profit.

"The epidemic of homelessness among children is on the rise, and it is rising faster in the suburbs than in the inner city. I believe we all have a responsibility to help transition families and children into financial security and Cradles to Crayons is one way that anyone can help assist  a family in need," Smith said.

Personally, I can't think of a better way to welcome 2015 than by making a family New Year's resolution to help these homeless children. I guarantee the experience will benefit you and your children as much as those in need.

Here are some additional resources:

Project Home

Stand Up for Kids

Covenant House

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