Ending Child Homelessness in America

Approximately 1.5 million children experience homelessness in America each year. The current economic recession and staggering numbers of housing foreclosures have caused the numbers of homeless families to increase dramatically. The impact of homelessness on families and children is devastating. Without a place to call home, children are severely challenged by unpredictability, dislocation, and chaos. Homelessness and exposure to traumatic stresses place them at high risk for poor mental health outcomes. Despite the pressing needs of these children, federal policy during the last decade has focused primarily on chronically homeless adult individuals—to the exclusion of the families. In 2010, however, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness issued a comprehensive plan to eradicate homelessness for all people through interagency collaboration and aligning mainstream services. A key goal is to prevent and end homelessness for families, youth, and children within 10 years. This policy-focused article describes several tools that can be used to help achieve this goal, including: general principles of care for serving homeless families and children; BSAFE—a promising practice that helps families access community-based services and supports; and the Campaign to End Child Homelessness aimed at action on behalf of homeless families and children at the national, state, and local levels. Not since the Great Depression have significant numbers of families been on the streets in the United States. In the 1980s, families accounted for < 1% of all homeless people; over the last three decades their numbers have increased and they now comprise 32% of the overall homeless population (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD], 2009). This number includes more than 1.5 million American children every year who stand at the nexus of poverty, the economic downturn, the housing crisis, and homelessness—1 in every 50 children (The National Center on Family Homelessness, 2009). Most studies to date have investigated the impact of homelessness on children by comparing those who are homeless to their low-income housed counterparts or to middle-class children (Bassuk et al., 1997; Masten, Miliotis, Graham-Bermann, Ramirez, & Neemann, 1993; Rog & Buckner, 2007; Rubin et al., 1996; Samuels, Shinn, & Buckner, 2010). These studied explored similarities and differences in the intensity of needs between these subgroups. Although valuable in their contributions, focusing on differences between these groups of children obfuscates the pressing needs of homeless children and diverts attention away from the urgency of creating responsive solutions. Whether homeless children are better or worse off or suffer more or less than other children may answer one set of questions but obscures others. Unlike previous articles that have explored the impact of homelessness on children (Bassuk et al., 1997; Buckner & Bassuk, 1997; Buckner, Bassuk, Weinreb, & Brooks, 1999; Masten et al., 1993; Masten et al., 1997; Rog & Buckner, 2007; Rubin et al., 1996; Weinreb, Goldberg, Bassuk, & Perloff, 1998) or reviewed the research literature (Rog & Buckner, 2007; Samuels et al., 2010), this article describes homeless children’s circumstances and needs within the context of federal policies. The article concludes by discussing some current practices and policies aimed at ending child homelessness.

Publication Date: 
496 - 504
Journal Name: 
American Journal of Orthopsychiatry