Homelessness is a growing social problem in the United States. Many school-aged children are affected by homelessness - recent data from the U.S. Department of Education found that during the 2008-09 school year 954,914 homeless children and youth were enrolled in public schools. Homeless student numbers are on the rise: in the 2009-08 school year there were 20% less homeless students, and in 2006-07 there were 41% less. These numbers are likely underestimated, as some school districts did not report data for the study, and the numbers reflect only those homeless children identified by staff and enrolled in school. ("Facts about," 2011)
The economic hardships of recent years have contributed to the growth of the homeless population in the U.S. A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that “seven percent of fifth-graders and their families have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, and that the occurrence is even higher - 11 percent - for African-American children and those from the poorest households” ("Facts about," 2011, para. 3). This study looked only at families living in shelters or on the streets, which is a very narrow definition of homelessness. The federal definition of homeless in the U.S. is children and youth “who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” ("Facts about," 2011, para. 4). This expands the definition to include people sleeping in cars, motels, campgrounds, and ‘couch-surfing’, among others. Even with the narrow definition used by the American Journal of Public Health study, the prevalence of homelessness in American youth is concerning.
This website explores the subject of homeless, including its effects of children and youth, their experiences in school, and policies and interventions that can help address the needs of homeless students. As homelessness grows, more youth will be affected by the instability of not having a home. Schools can be an important positive influence on these children’s lives, but school staff must first understand the causes and effects of homelessness and then take appropriate action to reach out to the homeless students in their region.
NPCR Story: Close to Homeless: Explores the issue of rural homelessness, including how transiency affects kids' education and the schools they attend, in this series of online audio broadcasts. Facts About Homelessness in Alaska:
The homeless population in Alaska has many of the same problems and situations as they do in the lower 48, but face additional hardships. One obvious issue faced in Alaska is the weather. Families facing economic stress are burdened with high heating bills and high rent prices in addition to a shortage of affordable housing. In addition there are fewer shelters available and less public transportation available. Often during the winter family shelters are full and have to maintain waiting lists.
Homelessness has a tragic effect on youth. They often go hungry, have health issues and delayed development. Often homeless students are not able to attend school due to lack of transportation and other resources necessary. Those that do attend are more prone to academic and behavioral problems and greater risk of dropping out or repeating grades.
In this time of recession, when so many families are just one paycheck away from homelessness, it should be our concern as a state and country to make sure our nation’s youth have shelter and protection.