A Figment Of The Imagination

Posted: March 10, 2009 in Children, Compassion, Family, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Misconceptions, Morality, Poverty

I began yesterday morning’s post with this:

"I’m amazed at how little politicians and bureaucrats actually understand the issue of homelessness."

But they’re not the only ones.

Although I’m guessing, I would venture to say that most folks probably know more about the lives of celebrities and the fictional characters on their favorite television shows than they do about the homeless in their own communities. That’s evident in that many folks still have a tendency to believe that most – if not all – of the homeless are derelicts, drunkards and drug addicts.  

While that may have been the case at one time in the past, the stereotypes of homelessness certainly do not reflect the present reality. In fact, over the last two decades or so the "face" of homelessness has changed almost exponentially – and even more so within the last few years as the nation has undergone a drastic economic turn about.

The numbers of children who face homelessness each year has grown at an alarming rate.

A press release by the National Center on Family Homelessness (NCFH) states that 1 in 50 American children are homeless each year. This translates to 1.5 million children annually who will be without a place to call home.

However, that is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Ellen L. Bassuk, M.D., president of the National Center on Family Homelessness and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School states:

"Children without homes are on the frontline of the nation’s economic crisis. These numbers will grow as home foreclosures continue to rise.

Homeless children are scared, hungry, sick, isolated, and falling behind in school. Without decisive action, millions of children will carry the burden of homelessness for their entire lives.

The consequences to our society will play out for decades. As we bail out the rest of our nation, it is also time to come to their aid."

The irony is that city after city are in the process of putting together and implementing so-called "10-year plans to end homelessness." However, their very title is a misnomer – since they are targeted at ending "chronic homelessness" and not homelessness in general.

Unfortunately, the definition of "chronic homeless," as outlined by both the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), excludes children. Consequently, America’s homeless children will not benefit in the slightest from these 10-year plans.

The rationale used by HUD and USICH to target chronic homelessness only is their assertions that the chronic homeless are the most vulnerable of those living on the street.

I beg to differ with their opinion.

It seems to me that there is no one more vulnerable in any society than children.

Moreover, because they are less able to cope with homelessness than an adult is, they are more susceptible to the emotional and psychological traumas of the experience.

Beginning on page four of the NCFH’s fact sheet, The Characteristics And Needs Of Families Experiencing Homelessness, are these disturbing statistics:

  • Children experiencing homeless are sick four times more often than other children.
  • They go hungry at twice the rate of other children.
  • One out of five (between three and six years of age) have emotional problems serious enough to require professional care.
  • 47 percent of school age have problems such as anxiety, depression, and withdrawal, compared to 18 percent of other school-age children.
  • Children experiencing homelessness are four times more likely to show delayed development.

While I think that ending chronic homelessness is a worthy goal, it seems advisable that we keep in mind that they represent only about 10 percent of the nation’s homeless population. In contrast, one-third of America’s homeless are children.

These 10-year plans may be a good first step. But, will they actually end homelessness?

No. Not while there is one child who has no place to call home.

As for the all the homeless being bums, drunks and drug addicts: all you have to do is look into the eyes of a homeless child and you’ll come to realization that the homeless stereotypes are a figment of someone’s warped imagination.

Additional Reading:

America’s Youngest Outcasts Website
America’s Youngest Outcasts Executive Summary (60.4 KB – PDF Format)
America’s Youngest Outcasts Full Report (19.6 MB – PDF Format)

  1. AnAmerican says:

    What are we saying to the next generation when we allow children to live without basic shelter,food and clothing?
    I’m ashamed that we as a country have let children live without a home…and that this issue remains so far removed from the top priorities of our communities and government.

  2. Skye says:


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