Homeless Children and Destitute Families

Homeless Children and Destitute Families

A recent report, America ’s Youngest Outcasts: A Report Card on Child Homelessness
from the National Center on Family Homelessness has serious implications for this
country’s child welfare systems. The authors of this report, Ellen Bassuk, Carmelia
DeCandia, Corey Beach and Fred Berman, found that in the 2012-2013 school year
almost 2.5 million American children were homeless at some point. The authors state
that “Based on a calculation using the most recent US. Department of Education’s
count of homeless children in US. public schools and on 2013 U.S. census data:
0 2,483,539 children experienced homelessness in the U.S. in 2013
0 This represents one in every 30 children in the U.S.”
Even more alarming than the number of children homeless at some point during the
year are the trends in child homelessness discussed in this report:
0 In 2012-2013, child homelessness increased 8% nationally, with increases in 31
states and the District of Columbia.
0 Child homelessness affected 1 in 50 children in 2006, 1 in 45 children in 2010
and 1 in 30 children in 2013.
0 The authors estimate that about half of children who experienced homelessness
were less than 6 years old and about a third were 6-12 years old.
A study of homeless children is necessarily a study of destitute families. Homeless
families as defined in this study lacked stable housing and may have lived on the
street, doubled up in living arrangements with friends or relatives, lived temporarily in
motels or hotels which they could not afford for more than 14 days, included women
fleeing domestic violence or sexual assault who found refuge in shelters or lived in “a
place not meant for human habitation.” An early study found that the majority of
homeless families were composed of single women and young children, often more
than one child. According to this report, “Families who become homeless tend to be
living in very precarious economic circumstances prior to their homelessness. A single
event such as the loss of a job, an illness, injury, a large household bill, loss of a car or
day care can topple a vulnerable family into homelessness.” Homeless families have
often exhausted the patience and good will of friends or extended family members after
“doubling up repeatedly” during multiple moves.
Homeless families are among the “poorest of the poor,” i.e. defined in this report as
“people living at 50% or less of the federal poverty level,” about 20 million Americans,
or 7% of the US. population. A 2011 study of this group of impoverished persons found

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