[URBANTH-L]1 in 50 American Children Experiences Homelessness

Lance Arney lance.arney at gmail.com
Tue Mar 10 21:46:41 EDT 2009

[The report referred to in the article below can be found at:]

March 10, 2009 
1 in 50 American Children Experiences Homelessness
by the Associated Press

NEW YORK - One of every 50 American children experiences homelessness,
according to a new report that says most states have inadequate plans to
address the worsening and often-overlooked problem.

The report being released Tuesday by the National Center on Family
Homelessness gives Connecticut the best ranking. Texas is at the bottom.

"These kids are the innocent victims, yet it seems somehow or other they get
left out," said the center's president, Dr. Ellen Bassuk. "Why are they
America's outcasts?"

The report analyzes data from 2005-2006. It estimates that 1.5 million
children experienced homelessness at least once that year, and says the
problem is surely worse now because of the foreclosures and job losses of
the deepening recession.

"If we could freeze-frame it now, it would be bad enough," said Democratic
Sen. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, who wrote a foreward to the report. "By
end of this year, it will be that much worse."

The report's overall state rankings reflect performance in four areas: child
homelessness per capita, child well-being, risk for child homelessness, and
state policy and planning.

The top five states were Connecticut, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Rhode Island
and North Dakota. At the bottom were Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, New Mexico
and Louisiana.

Reflecting the disarray caused by Hurricane Katrina, the report said
Louisiana had the most homeless children per capita in 2006, followed by
Texas and California.

However, Bassuk -- a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School -- said
many states fell short in regard to policy and planning. Only six were
praised for "extensive" planning to curb child homelessness. Twenty-four
states received an "inadequate" grade.

Ken Martin, executive director of the Texas Homeless Network, said the large
number of homeless children in Texas was predictable.

"It's not surprising when you don't put money into human services that you
have issues come up," said Martin, who expressed hope that improvements are

The Texas Interagency Council for the Homeless is fine-tuning a plan for
curbing homelessness. Lack of such a plan earned the state an "inadequate"
rating in the report.

Michael Gerber, executive director of the Texas Department of Housing and
Community Affairs and chairman of the interagency council, said officials
are assessing how to use $41 million in federal stimulus money Texas expects
to receive for homeless programs.

In Arkansas, relatively few homeless shelters cater to families or single
fathers, so it took a while for Vaughn Summerville to find Our House Shelter
in Little Rock. Because it has separate housing for families, Summerville
can stay with his two daughters, who attend an after-school program at the
shelter while he works at a museum.

"It was horrible at first, but it's getting better," said Tiffany
Summerville, 13. "I guess I'm still reacting, because we've never been in a
shelter before."

Many homeless families miss out on such support, foregoing shelters because
they fear having their children taken from them, said Sandra Wilson of the
Arkansas Homeless Coalition.

Shelters in Arkansas are funded mostly through private donations, along with
some federal money, said Julie Munsell of the state Department of Health and
Human Services. There's no state funding, and backers of a bill to create a
housing trust fund said they are not sure where the money would come from.

In Georgia, one challenge is serving homeless youth who are on their own.

"We need to make it safe for kids to ask for help," said Becca Orchard of
StandUp for Kids in Atlanta. "The focus is on the homeless adults because we
can see them, and they're a nuisance. We can't see the kids, so we don't
think they're there."

New York was ranked 38th, worst of any northeastern state. According to New
York City's Coalition for the Homeless, the number of families in municipal
shelters reached a record high at the end of November -- 9,720 families, the
most since the city began reporting such data 25 years ago.

Among the families in shelters now are Galina and Mark Turner, and their
18-month-old son, Nareem. They were evicted two weeks ago from their
apartment, unable to keep up with the rent.

"It's decent," Galina said of their city-run shelter. "The worst part is it
feels like jail."

Mark, 27, is jobless, and thus able to take care of Nareem while Galina
works as a security guard.

"We're trying to hold our heads up and be optimistic," Galina said.

The report said homeless children are far more likely than other children to
experience hunger, suffer chronic health problems, repeat a grade in school
and drop out of high school.

It stressed the long-term damage that can result from disruptions to
friendships, health care and family routines.

"These factors combine to create a life-altering experience that inflicts
profound and lasting scars," the report said.

It offered 19 recommendations for government action, including beefed-up
federal spending on low-income housing, assistance to struggling renters and
homeowners, and investment in child care for homeless children. It urged
states to place homeless families directly into permanent housing rather
than into motels.

Ending homelessness for all U.S. children within a decade is possible,
despite the recession, said the report, which Bassuk's center issued to
launch a campaign pursuing that goal.

"If we fail to act," the report said, "the consequences will play out for
years to come as a generation of lost children grow to adulthood."

Associated Press writers Linda Stewart Ball in Dallas, Daniel Shea in Little
Rock, Ark., and Dionne Walker in Atlanta contributed to this report.

C 2009 Associated Press

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