Family Homelessness: Summertime Struggles

Summer months often lead to a surge in the number of families and children experiencing homelessness. The reasons for this surge vary but in every community, homeless service systems feel the burden as shelters reach capacity and budgets are tight.

As the temperature rises, so does the number of homeless families and children. This phenomenon, often called “the summer surge,” is yet another challenge facing already overwhelmed shelters and other emergency support services across the nation. The warm summer months are typically accompanied by a spike in homelessness. The weak economy and high unemployment rate may be compounding the problem.

Due to the current economic climate, many shelters are experiencing an increase in demand for beds and services. Meanwhile, shelters are receiving less state funding and fewer private donations. The gap between decreasing income and higher demand is leaving many shelters questioning how long they can keep their doors open. Shelters across the country have reported extending hours of operation, setting up mats on the floor, and creating makeshift waiting rooms to accommodate the influx of families. Still, families continue to be split up or turned away each night due to overcrowding.

The causes of the summertime surge in homelessness are varied. Landlords are reluctant to evict tenants during the cold winter months, but may be more inclined to force families to leave once the weather becomes warmer. Similarly, relatives allowing families to stay in their homes find the situation to be less tolerable once children are out of school and at home all day. In other situations, parents are reluctant to move during the school year in the hopes of preventing disruption of their child’s education. Additionally, parents may have the extra burden of finding and paying for child care when the school year ends in order to maintain their own employment.

The number of families and children who are homeless or at risk of homelessness continues to increase. According to America’s Youngest Outcasts, the impact of homelessness is profound and long lasting on children and their families. Homeless children often experience developmental delays, learning difficulties, and academic problems that seriously jeopardize their education and economic success. Homeless children often go hungry during the summer when the free breakfast and lunch program through the school system is no longer in effect.

To combat the summertime surge, homeless advocacy organizations, state officials, service programs, and shelter staff are developing creative solutions to address the increased need, such as offering summer lunch programs and tutoring classes to children. Unfortunately, not every community has the resources to expand their services during the summer months.

Other Resources: USDA’s Summer Food Service Program

Publication Date: 
Rockville, MD, USA