How many children and families are homeless in the U.S.? The answer depends on how you count and how you define homelessness. The federal government defines homelessness in a few different ways. Answers vary depending on the definition used.
Each year, communities around the country participate in a “Point in Time” count led by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The goal is to learn how many people are homeless the night of the count. It’s done at the same time every year to ensure that numbers can be compared from year to year. In 2019, the Point in Time identified approximately 107,069 children and youth under 18 years old as homeless. In this case, “homeless” is defined as a family living in a shelter, transitional housing, or a place not meant for human habitation (e.g., car, abandoned building).
Although useful for year-to-year comparison, the Point in Time doesn’t capture the full picture. Shelters turn many families away due to a lack of space. Some shelters don’t allow families to stay together, especially those with adolescent boys. Families may avoid those places altogether.
They also try to avoid places like cars or the street because they are too cold and too dangerous. In many cases, families choose to “double up” with friends, families, or anyone they know who can provide them a literal roof over their heads for a night. Sometimes shelter is found in overcrowded, unsafe situations because families lack the financial resources to find their own place.
For these reasons, the U.S. Department of Education uses a definition of homelessness as any child or youth who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. This definition includes children and youth living in shelters, transitional housing, cars, campgrounds and motels. It also includes sharing the housing of others temporarily due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or similar reasons. In 2017-2018, public schools estimated 1,508,265 students were experiencing homelessness.
What about younger kids who aren’t in school? In the past, researchers have determined that 42 percent of children who are homeless are under the age of 6. This means the 1.5 million students counted as experiencing homelessness by public schools is only 58 percent of the total! The U.S. Department of Education recently noted that 1 in 16 children under the age of 6 experienced homelessness in the 2017-2018 school year.
What do you think? Does it make you angry? Sad? Curious? Dumbfounded? Learn what you can do to end family homelessness.
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