Report Details Rise of Child Homelessness in U.S.

Department of Education Counts 1.3 Million Homeless Children in Public Schools

The number of homeless children in the U.S. has surged to an all-time high, amounting to one child in every 30, according to a comprehensive state-by-state report that blames the nation’s high poverty rate, the lack of affordable housing, and the impacts of pervasive domestic violence.

According to a Fox News report, “America’s Youngest Outcasts” (a study issued by the National Center on Family Homelessness) calculates that nearly 2.5 million American children were homeless at some point in 2013. The number is based on the Department of Education’s latest count of 1.3 million homeless children in public schools, supplemented by estimates of homeless pre-school children not counted by the DOE.

The problem is particularly severe in California, which has an eighth of the U.S. population but accounts for more than a fifth of the homeless children with a tally of nearly 527,000.

Child homelessness increased by 8 percent nationally from 2012 to 2013, according to the report, which warned of potentially devastating effects on children’s educational, emotional, and social development, as well as on their parents’ health, employment prospects, and parenting abilities.

The report included a composite index ranking the states on the extent of child homelessness, efforts to combat it, and the overall level of child well-being. States with the best scores were Minnesota, Nebraska, and Massachusetts. At the bottom were Alabama, Mississippi, and California.

The new report by the National Center on Family Homelessness—a part of the private, nonprofit American Institutes for Research—says remedies for child homelessness should include an expansion of affordable housing, education and employment opportunities for homeless parents, and specialized services for the many mothers rendered homeless due to domestic violence.

Efforts to obtain more resources to combat child homelessness are complicated by debate over how to quantify it.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development conducts an annual one-day count of homeless people that encompasses shelters, as well as parks, underpasses, vacant lots and other locales. Its latest count, for a single night in January 2013, tallied 610,042 homeless people, including 130,515 children.

Defenders of HUD’s method say it’s useful in identifying the homeless people most in need of urgent assistance. Critics contend that HUD’s method grossly underestimates the extent of child homelessness and results in inadequate resources for local governments to combat it. They prefer the Education Department method that includes homeless families who are staying in cheap motels or doubling up temporarily in the homes of friends or relatives.

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