Child Homelessness: A Growing Crisis
Homelessness is devastating. The number of people dealing with homelessness in the US is staggering, making the subject difficult to comprehend and one that overwhelms us. While it’s challenging to think of anyone without shelter, the thought of homeless children is especially alarming; however, it is a reality that requires our compassion and attention.
- There are more than 2.5 million homeless children in the US.
- The number of homeless students from kindergarten to grade 12 has grown by 70 percent over the past decade.
- Children under 18 made up 60 percent of people experiencing homelessness in families in 2020. Another 33 percent were adults over the age of 24, and seven percent were young adults between 18 and 24 years of age.
- California accounted for 15 percent of families experiencing homelessness in the US, with 24 percent of people experiencing homelessness as part of an unsheltered family.
- Nearly 2.6 million families with children experience “worst-case housing needs,” meaning they are incredibly rent-burdened, their income is at or below the poverty line, they spend half of their income on housing, and receive no housing assistance from the government.
Santa Clara has approximately 2,700 homeless residents under 18—the highest number in the Bay Area counties. Experts suspect that the numbers are even higher because many women withhold that information for fear of having their children taken away.
In October 2021, officials in Santa Clara County launched Heading Home—an ambitious project to end homelessness in Santa Clara County by 2025—to address the growing homeless population. In the meantime, more than 2,500 children continue to feel the effects of homelessness.
The Pandemic’s Impact on Homeless Children
Not surprisingly, the pandemic accelerated the rate of homelessness in the US, yet, the right to a decent, safe, and affordable home was already out of reach for many children and families even before the COVID-19 crisis—particularly for Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous families.
The fallout from high unemployment rates led to food insecurity and evictions, expanding child homelessness. The devastation of the pandemic continues, and it may be years before the full impact is known.
The Consequences of Child Homelessness
Having a safe, stable home is a basic need for all children. Homelessness, unstable housing, and the lack of affordable housing have dire outcomes for children’s health, education, and future earning potential.
Attending school can be a struggle when children are without a permanent place to stay. As a result, they are behind on lessons, homework, and other school activities. In addition, frequent moves from shelter to shelter or other accommodations result in students in constant flux. Experts estimate that school transfers cause students to lose anywhere from four to six months of academic learning.
In addition, homeless children often must deal with the stress of adjusting to a new school—yet another unfamiliar environment—and can be the subject of bullying. The challenges of attending school for homeless children contribute to higher dropout rates. Without a diploma, they have fewer employment opportunities as adults, making them susceptible to future homelessness.
Being homeless can exact a high health toll on children. People experiencing a homeless crisis are also likely to lack adequate food sources. While a lack of sufficient and nutritious meals can cause health concerns for anyone, it can be especially devastating for children.
For example, asthma—one of the most common illnesses among homeless kids—is further aggravated by displacement, interrupting asthma maintenance treatments. Staying in shelters can also increase exposure to allergens for asthmatic children, triggering attacks. In addition, very young children housed in shelters have a high rate of iron deficiency anemia.
In addition, the combination of hunger and homelessness at an early age increases the risk of developmental delays, creating significant educational, emotional, and health disadvantages.
Homelessness can also cause multiple mental and behavioral health issues. Being homeless is highly stressful for anyone, but the experience can cause deep trauma for children, lingering well into adulthood.
Help Is Available
Everyone needs a helping hand sometimes, and fortunately, help is available if you are experiencing homelessness, are at risk of homelessness, or are experiencing food insecurity. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Santa Clara County offers homeless services and rent, utility, or food assistance.
The Countywide Shelter Hotline: (408) 278-6420 provides assistance and resources to people currently experiencing homelessness. In addition, the Santa Clara County Homelessness Prevention System at (408) 926-8885 can help if your housing situation is unstable or you’re at risk of becoming homeless.
Help Us Help Homeless Children
The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul of Santa Clara County has been helping struggling families and individuals since 1948 with dignity, compassion, and love. There are so many ways you can help us help those in need. There are multiple volunteer opportunities and several additional ways to support us. Your donations of cash, or even a car,in any condition, can make a significant difference in the life of a homeless child.