Battling Homelessness: How We Can Help Homeless Children in Our Local Community

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By Carrie Mora

Homelessness among children is an issue that has been lamented throughout U.S. history. The number of homeless children reached a record high in 2013 with 2.5 million children, or one in 30 children, experiencing homelessness (Ziv, 2014). This number rose an astounding 8 percent from 2012 – 2013 (Ziv, 2014). These millions of children live on the streets, in vehicles, in shelters, in campgrounds or other transient housing, or “doubled-up” with non-family members, in housing that is over capacity and in unsafe conditions (Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness). Data collection for these statistics is imperfect and incomplete, because it is based on information obtained from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), The U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Census Bureau (Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness). The DOE data depends upon families enrolling children in school in order to acquire data, so many of the most at-risk children and families do not register and are not accounted for in the DOE numbers. Thus, it can be assumed that the actual numbers are higher than those reported. The HUD data is based on a “point-in-time” system, where the numbers are taken at one point in time instead of being a result of constant monitoring and data collection (Ziv, 2014). In addition, many homeless teens drop out of school prior to graduation, and they are not reflected in these numbers.

While children are incredibly resilient, and often able to bounce back from a short period of homelessness, homeless students are below average in reading and math by almost 30 percentage points. Falling behind in school can have far-reaching consequences when not properly addressed (Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness). In addition, homeless children more likely to be hungry, suffer from poverty, poor nutrition, and poor or no access to healthcare and dental care. Homeless children are also twice as likely to be suspended or expelled, or to repeat a grade as their peers who live in stable homes (Child Trends, 2015). The tragic fact is that 25 percent of homeless children have witnessed violence, and 50 percent suffer from anxiety and/or depression (Child Trends, 2015). Many homeless children live in an unstable environment without access to school supplies, books, internet access or a quiet environment in which to study. Homeless children often live with adults who are not invested in their education, and the children are frequently forced to drop out of school prior to graduation to earn money to pay for basic needs. Many homeless students have learning disabilities, and for many, English is their second language. These communication barriers prevent the children from receiving benefits, care, and employment that might otherwise be made available to them and that might improve their outlook (Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness). It is imperative that homeless students be provided with the resources to combat learning disabilities and communication barriers in order to increase their chances of leading healthy and productive lives.

While child homelessness is a National issue, it is especially visible in our home state, the Commonwealth of Virginia. According to Newsweek’s 2014 report, “Child Homelessness Reaches Historic High”, Virginia ranks 15th in homelessness (Ziv, 2014). In the year of 2014-15, 17,876 homeless students were documented in Virginia, accounting for 1.4 percent of the total State enrollment (Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness).

As members of the JLNVB, we can assist by working with several of our Community Partners. Two outstanding examples of local organizations that work to prevent child homelessness and increase access to education and enrichment are Union Mission and ForKids. Union Mission provides individuals, including children, with emergency shelter, rehabilitation programs, food, and clothing. Union Mission has expanded in the past few years, establishing Hope Haven Children’s Home, and currently provides resources to more than 375 men, women, and children each day (Union Mission Ministries ).

ForKids was founded in the Ocean View area by Trinity Catholic Church more than 30 years ago in order to expand the church’s soup kitchen to a “Homeless Haven,” providing emergency shelter and services to homeless children and families. ForKids currently serves more than 47,500 individuals each year and is proud that 92 percent of families who have benefited from ForKids programs leave the shelter with appropriate housing (ForKids).

JLNVB has partnered with these two amazing organizations for years, and our members and support play an important part in their ability to help the neediest in our community.

Works Cited

Child Trends. (2015). Child Trends. Retrieved September 21, 2017, from Databank Indicator 2015: Homeless Children and Youth: https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/homeless-children-and-youth/

ForKids. (n.d.). ForKidsVA. Retrieved September 23, 2017, from ForKidsVA About Us: https://www.forkidsva.org/about-us/

Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness. (n.d.). Idealist. Retrieved September 21, 2017, from Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness, Virginia Statistics: http://www.icphusa.org/national/%EF%BB%BFvirginia-almost-18000-homeless-students-statewide/

National Center on Family Homelessness. (n.d.). American Institutes for Research. Retrieved September 23, 2017, from National Center on Family Homelessness: http://www.air.org/center/national-center-family-homelessness

Union Mission Ministries . (n.d.). Union Mission Ministries . Retrieved September 23, 2017, from About Us: https://www.unionmissionministries.org

Ziv, S. (2014, November 17). Newsweek. Retrieved September 23, 2017, from CHILD HOMELESSNESS IN U.S. REACHES HISTORIC HIGH: http://www.newsweek.com/child-homelessness-us-reaches-historic-high-report-says-285052