Homeless children an unintended casualty of economic downturn
On Tuesday, the National Center on Family Homelessness issued a ranked state-by-state report on child homelessness. The report, entitled “America’s Youngest Outcasts”, says that one in every 45 children in the United States is homeless.
“Our purpose in crafting this report…is to make these invisible children visible to the country,” said John Kellogg, Vice President of the National Center.
Several states with large African-American populations like Alabama and Mississippi are at the bottom of the list. The study provides an overview on the state of homeless children from birth to age 18 as a whole and does not discuss demographic categories like race or ethnicity. In 2010, The Child Trends Data Bank determined “black children are disproportionately represented among homeless families. Approximately, 47 percent of children in homeless families are black.”
Speaking from the National Center’s office outside of Boston, Kellogg said the economic downturn had more of an impact on homeless kids than recent natural disasters.
“Throughout the country we see a man made disaster caused by financial speculation and the collapse of the housing market.” According to the study, the recession period between 2007 and 2010 lead to a 38 percent spike in homelessness amongst children. 1.6 million American children go to bed at night without a permanent place to call home, roughly one hundred thousand more than in 2006, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The lowest ranking states on The National Center’s list are those where homeless children are likely to encounter the most hardships.
Homeless children are more likely than their peers to experience developmental delays and have higher incidences of physical disabilities than other low-income children. Each state is ranked based upon an assessment of their policies on homeless children, the amount of homeless children within the state, their well-being and the risk for child homelessness.
The lowest ranking group was primarily comprised of states in the Southeast region, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida and Georgia. The bottom rung also includes states that were hard hit by the foreclosure crisis, Arizona, California, New Mexico and Nevada.
“We do whatever we can to help families that are in need,” said Barry Spear spokesperson for Alabama’s Department of Human Resources. “When parents can’t find gainful employment or their income levels go down because they are underemployed its certainly going to be difficult on children.”
Spear said that he was surprised to find out that Alabama was the lowest ranking state. He questions the report’s methodology and the organization’s definition of homelessness. The report includes all children without an official residence who are a part of a family unit. The definition encompasses street homelessness, transitional housing and informal living arrangements like staying with extended family or friends. The report does not include runaways or homeless youth who are living on their own.
According to the report, the most advantageous state to be in if you are a homeless child is Vermont. Rita Markley, Executive Director of the Committee on Temporary Shelter in Burlington says that the ranking makes sense because Vermont is focused on homelessness prevention not just emergency services. “We don’t wait until everything has unraveled…. We intercede to try to preserve their housing and their dignity.”
Markley said that programs like state sponsored child health care help to make Vermont a safer place for all children including those who are homeless. Sara Kobylenski, Executive Director of Upper Valley Haven, a temporary shelter also in Vermont; noted that a strong spirit of collaboration between the public and private sector is a significant factor in the state’s fight against homelessness.
“We make it a priority to come together with others outside the bounds of our own institutional parameters and loyalties. It’s part of the Vermont culture and I would recommend it to others,” said Kobylenski.
Many of the highest scoring states are in the Northeast. At number 35, New York state is somewhat of an outlier. Economically, New York is well off in comparison to its neighbors on the list West Virginia and Kentucky.
The report indicates that in 2010, there were over 140 thousand homeless children in New York state, one of the highest populations in the nation. John Kellogg of The National Center says that when it comes to homeless kids, New York State does not have a plan. “Their planning efforts are inadequate. They don’t have a state housing trust fund, they don’t have an interagency council on the homeless, nor a 10-year plan.”
Patrick Markee of Coalition for the Homeless, an organization, which advocates for, and provides direct services to the homeless in New York City, agrees that the policies are inadequate.
However, he doesn’t point fingers at the state. “New York City’s homeless population represents about 80 percent of the state’s homeless population…. It is the abject failure of the Bloomberg administration to address this problem. Mayor Bloomberg and his administration refuse to understand the cause of the problem is housing affordability, the gap between incomes and housing costs, which has gotten wider and wider over the past decade.”
Where does your state rank?