Homelessness Among Families

Many states have programs to target the street people who make up the bulk of the chronically homeless. Few have comprehensive plans for families that ...
March 10, 2009

Many states have programs to target the street people who make up the bulk of the chronically homeless. Few have comprehensive plans for families that become homeless and fewer still, programs to help the children who get stuck in that precarious and vulnerable situation. The extent of the problem and the ranking of states in their approach to it are in a study released Tuesday by the National Center on Family Homelessness, "America's Youngest Outcasts."

In terms of rankings, Connecticut comes out on top, followed closely by the tight group of New Englanders. Bottom of the heap: Texas. Close to bottom: Florida. As Ellen Bassuk, president of the center, noted, "Extreme poverty is the driving force behind homelessness, and the top 10 states had poverty levels that were half that of the bottom 10 states."

But that is not all that pushes a family into homelessness. Gloria Guard, who runs the People's Emergency Center in Philadelphia , notes that many of the families she works with at her center come from communities rife with violence and crime.

"Safety is a big, big issue," she says. "In most of the surveys we've done, two out of three moms had had violent partners. That's a common route onto the streets." Once there, homeless children are more likely than their housed peers to suffer from a host of serious childhood ailments, such as asthma, and to have mental health and other developmental problems.

Guard would like to see states and localities give homeless children priority when it comes to accessing programs that assess and treat developmental problems. "It wouldn't even cost them any additional money," she says. "The state could just take what is already available in the mainstream and prioritize it for homeless families."

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