Homelessness amongst children in America is a pervasive problem. Indeed, and with child homelessness generally representing a corollary of parental poverty, structural in nature and driven by an insufficient social safety net, this points to a context in which the majority of childhood poverty results from predictors such as race, ethnicity and/or parental histories of mental illness and substance abuse. With almost half of homeless children being under the age of six years old, the vulnerability which these children experience on the street is incredibly salient. While a distinct category of runaway youth aged thirteen to sixteen faces some of the same challenges as these homeless children, the latter are likely the most vulnerable because of their young age, and because of their parents’ various afflictions.
Examining the manner by which childhood homelessness affects development throughout the lifespan, homeless children are predisposed to developing mental illness, substance abuse difficulties, and to experiencing lifelong poverty of the same varieties experienced by their parents. Moreover, and because life on the street forces children to adopt age-inappropriate social norms and psychological coping mechanisms, children who were once homeless also have immense difficulties integrating into the school system, and the labor market. This thus predisposes children who experienced significant periods of homelessness to themselves be more likely to experience homelessness later in life, and often once they have children of their own.
Ultimately, and in working to mitigate childhood homelessness, the same best practices which work for homeless adults appear to be germane to homeless children. The Housing First paradigm, which advocates providing the homeless with a home even if substance abuse or other problems are present, must be put into place so as to provide essential services to these children and their families simultaneously. This is critical because this approach to mitigating homelessness is one which allows children to return to normalcy as soon as possible by reintegrating the school system and their peer group in a manner which detracts from the otherwise significant long term effects of childhood homelessness.
Beginning with an overview of child homelessness in America itself, it is estimated that approximately one in thirty children will experience some degree of homelessness in a given year. While statistics pertaining to full-time homelessness are not available because of the inherent difficulty associated with tracking transient homeless populations, these data nevertheless reflect the fact that housing security for children in the United States is very problematic. With these data thus suggesting that between two and three million American children will experience homelessness in a given year, and with most such children experiencing it more than once, homelessness amongst children is a serious yet neglected social problem in contemporary America (Morton et al., 14-17)
Demographically speaking, what is perhaps most troubling about child homelessness is that over 50% of homeless children are under the age of six. Disproportionately members of visible minority groups, homeless children are typically left on the street,
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