What about the needs of children who are homeless?
In any given week, it is estimated that more than 200,000 children
have no place to live. Over the course of a year, as many as 1.4
million children experience homelessness. Forty-two percent of these
children are under the age of five. 1
Why do children become homeless?
Homeless families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless
population, comprising nearly forty percent of the total homeless
population. 2 Eighty-four percent of these families are
headed by single women with dependent children. An increase in the
number of families living in poverty, the shortage of affordable
housing, and critical risk factors in the lives of mothers, including
trauma, interpersonal violence, and mental health and substance
abuse problems, all contribute to family homelessness.
How is homelessness harmful to children? 3
Homelessness affects children's mental health, and causes emotional
and behavioral problems.
- Anxiety, depression, withdrawal, and other clinical problems
are found in 12 percent of preschoolers and 47 percent of school-age
- 16 percent of preschoolers have behavior problems including
severe aggression and hostility.
- 36 percent of school age children exhibit delinquent or aggressive
Homelessness causes educational and learning difficulties for children.
- At least one fifth of children who are homeless do not attend
school and more than one fourth have attended three or more schools
in a year.
- Children who are homeless are diagnosed with learning disabilities
such as dyslexia or speech and language impediments twice as often
as other children.
- Children who are homeless are twice as likely to repeat a grade
as other children.
Homelessness affects children in other ways.
- Homeless children go hungry at twice the rate of other children.
They also experience illnesses such as stomach problems, ear infections,
and asthma at higher rates.
- Nearly 25 percent have witnessed acts of violence in their families,
usually against their mother.
- They experience physical and sexual abuse at two to three times
the rate of other children.
- In one year, 22 percent of homeless children spend some time
apart from their immediate family, with 12 percent being placed
in foster care.
What can be done?
The Center for Mental Health Services and Center for Substance
Abuse and Treatment are currently evaluating interventions for homeless
families with mental health or substance abuse disorders in eight
sites across the nation. The cross-site study will identify the
most effective approaches for meeting the needs of these families
and make recommendations to help improve services for families that
are homeless nationwide.
In addition, the National Center on Family Homelessness recommends
the following to help homeless families:
- Maximize poor families' economic resources and build their assets.
- Develop an adequate supply of decent affordable housing.
- Support education, training, work and child care for parents.
- Eliminate hunger and food insecurity.
- Protect the health of homeless children.
- Improve mental health services for children and parents.
- Ensure access to school and opportunities for success in school.
- Prevent unnecessary separation of families.
- Expand violence prevention, treatment, and follow-up services.
For more information:
1 Burt, M.R., Aron, L.Y., Douglas, T., Valente, J., Lee, E., Iwen,
B. (1999) Homelessness: Programs and the People They Serve. Washington,
DC: Interagency Council on the Homeless.
2 Better Homes Fund. (1999) Homeless Children: America's New Outcasts.
Newton, MA: Better Homes Fund.
3 Ibid. Homes for the Homeless and The Institute for
Children and Poverty. (1999) Homeless in America: A Children's Story,
Part One. New York, NY: Homes for the Homeless and The Institute
for Children and Poverty.