Homeless Children All Time High in the United States

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two children walking on a railroad

Who would have thought that United States, the land of promise, freedom and equal opportunity, has statistics indicative of a third world or war-torn country?

two children walking on a railroad

The National Centre for Homeless Education and the American Institutes for Research state that 2.5 million children are now homeless each year in the United States.  Job insecurity, domestic violence, mental illness, weak social ties, family breakdown, discrimination, incarceration, drug addiction, the national housing crisis - and just plain bad luck, are all possible causes.

Children who can live with other families and friends are fortunate, but for the 129,370 children who are not so fortunate this year, abandoned buildings and cars have become their makeshift homes. 

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Families in California are living in caravans due to increased rents and a housing shortage.  47% of all homeless people are in the state of California.  As well, Boston, New York City and Washington, DC, have high percentages of homelessness.

In September 2019, the Council of Economic Advisers presented a report called, ‘The State of Homelessness in America’ that acknowledges over half a million people are homeless on a single night in the United States. Approximately 65% are found in shelters and the rest live on sidewalks, in parks, cars and abandoned buildings.

In a borough of Boise, Idaho, the fastest growing city in the US, a grandmother and her two grandchildren travel from shelter to shelter just trying to survive.  They can only stay at one shelter for a period of time and then must move on – and as they move on, the school the children attend changes too.    

mother and her two children walking down a road together

Being homeless has a detrimental and long lasting effect on a child’s learning and cognitive development, social skills, and mental and physical well being. 

Homeless children live in a constant state of anxiety and emotional turmoil not knowing where their next meal will come from or where they will sleep. 

With every day that passes, homeless children are increasingly disconnected from their family, friends, schools and communities. They become society’s child.

US Facts and Stats

parent sleeping on a bench while child waits

51,089.863 students attend school in the United States. 2.5 million of these students are homeless. 

7 out of 10 homeless children state that family rejection and abuse are the major causes of homelessness.

271,494 of homeless children have an identified disability.

Children who do not have a fixed address experience serious social and emotional adversities.  Education, health and mental well-being are greatly compromised. 

The only meal that most children receive daily is at school.

The National Centre for Homeless Education completed a comprehensive, federal data study for 2017 to 2018 in the US wherein they state:

  • 51,165 homeless children are 3 to 5 years-of-age
  • 123,574 homeless children are kindergartners
  • 122,922 homeless children are first graders
  • 124,117 homeless children are second graders
  • 125,965 homeless children are third graders
  • 122,687 homeless children are fourth graders
  • 117,486 homeless children are fifth graders
  • 108,811 homeless children are sixth graders
  • 102,048 homeless children are seventh graders
  • 99,310 homeless children are eighth graders
  • 111,204 homeless children are ninth graders
  • 96,310 homeless children are tenth graders
  • 89,741 homeless children are eleventh graders
  • 108,954 homeless children are twelfth graders
  • 3,721 homeless children are ungraded
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Canada Facts and Stats

abandoned building where people sleep
  • Youth between the ages of 13 and 24 represent 18.7% of people experiencing homelessness in Canada. 
  • 96.2% of residents in shelters are women with their children escaping abuse.
  • Youth identified as LGBTQ2S represent 29.5%, Indigenous at 30.6% and members of racialized communities at 28.2%.
  • 40.1% of participants in a 2016 study reported they were under the age of 16 when they first experienced homelessness.
  • According to a 2006 study on street youth, the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections and blood-borne Infections is 10 to 12 times higher than youth in the general population.
abandoned building where children make a shelter
  • Street youth are 11 times more likely to die from suicide or substance overdose.  Twelve to 32% have reported engaging in sex work, and 45.8% use injected drugs.
  • Homelessness costs the Canadian economy $7 billion dollars each year through social services, emergency accommodations, health care and corrections.

Our Children, Their Future?

UNICEF states that every child has the right to:

  • survive and develop with dignity;
  • protection from abuse, exploitation and harmful substances;
  • provisions for education, health care and adequate standard of living.
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child reflected in parent's eye

Ten years ago, when I was editor for Children’s Health and Safety Association, I wrote the following words.  “Our children are our future.  The safeguards we provide for them now will support and strengthen their growing years.  It is through our collective integrity that we unite with one strong voice to make this world a better and safer place.”

These words still hold true - perhaps more now than ever before.

Resources

For additional information, Diligencia Investigative Reporting recommends the following articles:

National Centre for Homeless Education – Data and Statistics on Homelessness

American Institutes for Research - America’s Youngest Outcasts

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – The 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress

United States Interagency Council on Homelessness

National Centre for Homeless Education – US Federal Data Summary

Statistics Canada – Population Living in Shelters

The Canadian Encyclopaedia – Homelessness in Canada

Homeless Hub – Canada

Raising the Roof – Homelessness in Canada

UNICEF – The Rights of Every Child

Diligencia Investigative Reporting recommends the following videos:

Additional Resources

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