The National Center On Family Homelessness reports that 1 in 45 kids, or 1.6 million, are homeless in America. These kids are more likely to suffer from gastrointestinal problems, ear infections, asthma, have high rates of obesity, respiratory infections, and experience three times the behavioral problems of children who are not homeless.
According to the Homeless Children’s Education Fund, located in the Pittsburgh region, McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act has defined homelessness among children as:
Individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence [and] specifically:
• children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals; or are awaiting foster care placement
• children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings
• children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings
• migratory children who are living in circumstances described above
As a result of homelessness and “house-hopping,” kids miss the most important aspect of education which is consistency. Frequent moving interrupts educational consistency and developing relationships. Many kids experience grief, loss, and depression.
Awareness within families dealing with severe or untreated mental illness is important. Sadly, parents are often ashamed and too hopeless to reach out to others for help. It is important that we reach for them instead.
Here is a list of things families, caregivers, and friends can do to help:
- Have a discussion: Although quite difficult in severe circumstances, it may be useful to have a discussion about homelessness and the future. Whatever the case, conversation can lead to better options.
- Offer your support and resources: Offer to provide a roof until the individual can do better. If this is not an option, offer to help that person find help and tap into sources you know can help.
- Learn about homelessness: Becoming more familiar with the challenges of homeless can help you intervene appropriately. You can also advocate for the proper care of your loved one when you are better informed.
- Try food assistance programs: Having food is not simply about eating, but providing the body and mind with the nutrition needed to tackle obstacles. Children need food to perform in school and face challenges.
- Apply, Apply, Apply: Apply for government benefits to help. Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare can be a very stressful system. But keep in mind that you may only need them temporarily.
- Try HUD: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development offers resources for individuals experiencing homelessness. Housing assistance, housing counseling, food banks, supplemental income/food stamps, and government medical benefits can all be helpful for your loved one.
We have a national problem that deserves much more attention. Sometimes it feels as if there is no way to help the homeless or mentally ill. We can make changes, but we have to educate ourselves and become motivated by the facts.
Click here for a national directory of homeless shelters and social services
• Read the complete fact list of needs and issues characteristic of homeless families
• Read more about the mentally ill and their use of libraries as shelter
• To teach youngsters about the affects of poverty, check into Just Neighbors
All the best
Homeless Children Education’s Fund. (n.d.). The “go-to” place for facts, figures, agencies, and useful websites. Retrieved February 26, 2013, from http://www.homelessfund.org/resources.html.
National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2013). Issues. Retrieved February 10, 2013, from http://www.endhomelessness.org/pages/issues.
Treatment Advocacy Center. (2011). Homelessness: One of the consequences of failing to treat individuals with severe mental illness-backgrounder. Retrieved February 26, 2013, from http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1379&Itemid=217.