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The Effect of Homelessness on Children

There is no shortage of reasons to fight homelessness. And as we come up on National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week (Nov. 11-19th), it is important to showcase just how homelessness impacts our world – the communities in which we work and live.

Among the most important: its often-devastating impact on children and teenagers.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) annual Point-in-Time count, more than one-fifth of the nearly 550,000 people experiencing homelessness on an evening in January 2016 were children (under the age of 18). Over the course of a year, more than 2 million U.S. kids will experience at least one period of homelessness, the non-profit organization Covenant House Institute says.

Living on the street can lead to serious consequences for our youth, whether they are homeless with a family or on their own. Some of the effects include:

Being prone to hunger

When homeless, access to food can be extremely difficult to come by. According to a study by Covenant House, 57 percent of homeless kids spend at least one day every month without food. Inadequate nutrition in turn can have negative impacts on brain development and a child's physical growth.

Poor mental health

Being homeless puts children at significant risk for a whole host of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, says a report by the National Network for Youth. Exacerbating the impact of these conditions is the fact that so few homeless youth will be able to access medical services to treat the conditions, the report adds.

"Mental health problems are as much as 11 times higher for homeless youth than for the general population," according to the report.

Missed educational opportunities and diminished employment prospects

While some youths experiencing homelessness are enrolled in school, they are obviously not positioned to do well and often miss multiple days of school. Many homeless children don’t even have the option to attend school in the first place.  With the lack of education not only are they missing an invaluable chance to learn, but are missing opportunities to discover themselves, develop powerful socialization skills and prepare for a future career.

Vulnerable to substance abuse

Life on the streets is extreme, and many youths will turn to drugs and alcohol to help cope with the everyday struggles of homelessness. According to research compiled by the National Network for Youth, between 30 and 40 percent of youths experiencing homelessness report alcohol problems , and 40 to 50 percent report drug problems.

A Way to Fight Homelessness

Partnerships between the private sector and non-profits are one way to fight homelessness among children.

Vienna, Va.-based nonprofit organization Shelters to Shutters (S2S) is currently partnering with more than 20 apartment management companies to place people experiencing homelessness in onsite, entry-level jobs and provide them with housing at the same communities at which they work. Many of the S2S program participants have families. In all, S2S and its multifamily partners have moved more than 100 people – including the children of program participants – out of homelessness in markets across the country.

S2S focuses on the 70 percent of the homeless population who are situationally homeless, meaning they have become homeless due to a life-altering event, such as job loss, medical or health emergency, divorce, domestic abuse or the loss of a primary income earner. Typically, these are people who are able-bodied and ready to work. They just need a hand up. However, governmental programs tend to focus on the chronically homeless.

Homelessness can have devastating impacts on people – especially children. But the children of the situationally homeless can be helped through partnerships between non-profits and the private sector that help take families off the street.



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