One in 50 American children is homeless according to the Massachusetts-based National Center on Family Homelessness. The authors of the study emphasize at the outset that the numbers come primarily from 2006 before the economic recession hit full swing, suggesting that the percentage and raw number of homeless children likely has increased.
The survey ranks and examines states on four distinct factors:
• The extent of child homelessness: This is the sheer number of homeless children, which the survey says is designed to help shape the public policy debate.
• Child well-being: Food security, health and educational statistics built primarily from federal government data.
• Risk for child homelessness: State benefit levels, household demographics, housing markets and cases of extreme poverty.
• Policy and planning: How advanced states are in addressing housing, income, education and health issues that impact homelessness.
The report defines homelessness not only as the most pervasive images of people living on the streets or in shelters, but also multiple families sharing a single-family home, living in motels or campgrounds and awaiting foster care placement.
It targets the bottom 11 states in the overall ranking as having 75 percent of homeless children, with Texas being on the bottom of the list. Other Deep South states in the bottom 11 are Mississippi, Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia and Texas. The rest of the group is rounded out by a trio of Western states in California, Nevada, and New Mexico.
In its opening remarks the survey sharply criticizes Congress for bailing out the banking industry and auto companies against the backdrop of the data it compiled.
“The year 2008 will long be remembered by Americans as a time when grossly overpaid bankers, captains of industry, and carmakers hobbled to Washington, hats in hand, begging for bailouts and infusions of billions of dollars,” the report said. “Ignored by members of Congress and the media were scores of children–many still infants and toddlers–who were homeless in the midst of this economic turmoil.”
It proceeds to prompt the Obama Administration to work in concert with Congress and state governments to more effectively address the problems.
The study does acknowledge that the numbers in the Gulf Coast states are skewed to some degree by the mass scattering of individuals and families prompted by Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29, 2005.
In Texas specifically, state agencies and homeless advocates differ on precisely how many homeless people there are in the state. Still there is recognition by government that there is much to be done.
“We’re really needing to think long and hard about how we integrate our social service system because homeless kids are truly the most vulnerable among us,” Michael Gerber, Executive Director of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs told the Associated Press.
On the other side of the argument, the Texas Homeless Network executive director told AP the state’s high number of residents without health insurance and mounting home foreclosures were central to expanding the situation.
Martin said, “At the other end of the scale are people who are way over their heads in houses they can’t afford. When they lose their jobs or have a health care crisis, they’re out on the street and they take their kids with them.”
Topping the list with the most responsive programs toward child homeless is Connecticut. Five other New England states are in the Top 10: New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont.