HOW DOES HOMELESSNESS HARM CHILDREN?
Imagine that you are 5 years old and you don’t know where you are going to sleep tonight. You are hungry and you don’t know if mom or dad will have any food for you. You often see violence around you. You see illegal drug use and crime. You are surrounded by adults who have lost their dignity. You are almost always sad.
Now imagine what kind of adult you might have become if you had been that vulnerable and impressionable five year old. Would you feel secure and independent? Would your body and mind be strong? Would you have a kind, compassionate spirit?
There are so many detrimental conditions and influences on homeless children that it is nearly impossible for them to experience wholesome, healthy growth and development.
Here are some of the many alarming ways that being homeless, or in a turbulent environment, can harm children of all ages.
- When children experience early adversity and toxic stress, for example, when their family is homeless, research finds corresponding subsequent impairments in learning, behavior, and both physical and mental well-being. According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, Forty-five percent of homeless youth reported mental health problems in the past year.
- Research indicates that children who experience a high degree of turbulence are more likely to have high levels of emotional and behavioral problems.
- Lack of regular, stable housing, and the resulting transitions, can negatively affect children’s development, including their physical, social-emotional, and cognitive development.
- Children who are homeless may suffer from hunger, poor physical and emotional health, and missed educational opportunities.
- According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, children who are homeless are twice as likely to go hungry as are children who are not homeless.
- Homeless children are more likely than other children to have moderate to severe acute and chronic health problems, and less access to medical and dental care. Symptoms of asthma, hyperactivity/inattention, and behavior problem are more prevalent among this group.
- Homeless children have three times the rate of emotional and behavioral problems, such as anxiety, depression, sleep problems, withdrawal and aggression.
- Children without stable homes are more than twice as likely as others to repeat a school grade, be expelled or suspended, or drop out of high school.
- A quarter or more of homeless children have witnessed violence.
- Homeless children may be at greater risk for social-emotional and behavior problems in schools, as well, especially when they lack certain abilities (e.g., focusing attention, self-control) associated with academic achievement. In a recent study, kindergarten and first-grade children (ages 5-7) living in homeless shelters had significantly poorer academic outcomes (e.g., lower IQ scores, below-grade-level performance), and high rates of both internalizing behaviors (e.g., depression, anxiety) and externalizing behaviors (e.g., conduct disorder, hostility)
- In a study of homeless families with young children (headed predominantly by single mothers), researchers found that 54 percent of preschoolers had a major developmental delay (e.g. language, gross motor, fine motor, social) compared to only 16 percent of their housed peers. In addition, compared with their peers, a higher proportion of homeless preschoolers had a number of developmental delays.
- In a large study of urban elementary school students (grades 2-5), students who were homeless (as broadly defined to include those living in cars, in doubled-up accommodations, etc.) scored lower on reading and math achievement tests compared to low-income students with housing.
Often children who experience homelessness at a very young age, become runaways to escape increasingly toxic and unsafe environments. These kids are called “unaccompanied youth” and here are some unsettling statistics about the consequences of homelessness for this group.
Mental Health Problems
- 50 to 56% of homeless youth reported mental health problems over their lifetime.
- A mere 9% of all homeless youth have accessed mental health services.
- Mental health problems are as much as eleven times higher for homeless youth than for the general population.
- The rates of major depression, conduct disorder, and post-traumatic stress syndrome are 3 times as high among runaway youth as among the general population of youth.
- 32% of homeless youth have attempted suicide.
- Homeless youth are 3 times more likely to use marijuana, and 18 times more likely to use crack cocaine than non-homeless youth.
- Between 30 and 40 percent of homeless youth report alcohol problems in their lifetime, and 40 to 50 percent report drug problems.
- Studies show that a mere 10 to 15 percent of all homeless youth are ever treated for drug and alcohol related problems.
- 23 percent of homeless youth report stealing.
- 14 percent of homeless youth have forced entry to a residence.
- 20 percent of homeless youth report dealing drugs.
- Runaway and homeless youth experience rape and assault rates 2 to 3 times higher than the general population of youth.
- It costs $53,665 to maintain a youth in the criminal justice system for one year, but only $5,887 to permanently move a homeless youth off the streets.
Unsafe Sexual Practices
- 95% of homeless youth have engaged in sexual intercourse.
- 13 years is the median age of first intercourse among homeless youth.
- More than one third of homeless you engage in survival sex. 75% of youth who engage in survival sex report only doing so while they are homeless. Of the youth who engage in survival sex:82% trade sex for money. 48% trade sex for food or a place to stay. 22% trade sex for drugs.
- Homeless youth are 7 times as likely to die from AIDS and 16 times as likely to be diagnosed with HIV as the general youth population. HIV prevalence for homeless youth may be as much as 2 to 10 times higher than the rates reported for other samples of adolescents in the United States.
- A national study of homeless youth found the pregnancy rate of 13-15 year old homeless girls to be 14 percent, versus 1 percent for non-homeless girls. 50% of homeless teen mothers did not believe birth control was important. 41% of homeless teen mothers did not know they were pregnant until the second trimester.
There are 162,000 homeless youth estimated to be victims of commercial sexual exploitation in the United States. The average age of entry into prostitution is fourteen. One of every three teens on the street will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.
HARD FACTS ABOUT HOMELESSNESS:
The federal Department of Housing and Urban development defines homelessness as:
- individuals and families who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence and includes a subset for an individual who is exiting an institution where he or she resided for 90 days or less and who resided in an emergency shelter or a place not meant for human habitation immediately before entering that institution;
- individuals and families who will imminently lose their primary nighttime residence;
- individuals and families who are fleeing, or are attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other dangerous or life-threatening conditions that relate to violence against the individual or a family member.
- unaccompanied youth and families with children and youth who are defined as homeless under other federal statutes.
Here are some hard facts about homelessness and poverty in Maryland and nationally.
- 37% of the homeless population in Maryland are families.
- The National Council on Family Homelessness reports that in 2014, there were 12,810 homeless children living in Maryland. Of those children, 7,430 were school-aged and enrolled in school.
- Homeless children consistently demonstrated poorer health outcomes compared to children from middle-income families.
- Approximately 20% of homeless children had overall health problems, compared to approximately 7% of children from middle-income children
- 25% of homeless children had asthma, compared to approximately 7% of children from middle-income families.
- 20% of homeless children reported emotional disturbances, compared to approximately 9% of children from middle-income families.
- Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) city officials asserted that on any given night in 2014, 2,567 people experienced homelessness in Baltimore City.
- 25% of residents live at or below the federal poverty line which is an annual income of $16,000 for an individual, $33,000 a year for a family of four.
- More than 1/3 of children in Baltimore City live in poor households.
- 760,300 people in Maryland are food insecure.
- Nearly 48,000 or 8.5% of all homeless persons are veterans
- On a given night, nearly 20% of the homeless population had serious mental illness or conditions related to chronic substance abuse.
- A renter earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour would need to work 90 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom rental home at the Fair Market Rent and 112 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom.
- Poverty is the other major factor that contributes to the homelessness epidemic. A lack of employment opportunities, combined with a decline in public assistance leaves low-income families just an illness or accident away from being put out on the streets.