Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Epidemic of Youth Homelessness

Protesting Youth Homelessness (Image by LarrybobSF)
Over 21,000 students in Washington State were homeless in 2009-2010. This represents a 5% increase from the previous year and a 56.5% increase from 2005-2006, according to a recent report from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The number of students living in motels was up by 12%, and those living with friends and relatives increased by 9%. Actual numbers are probably much higher due to the difficulty in accurately acquiring this data and the fact that many families hide their homelessness due to the stigma that is attached to being homeless.

The data for Washington are appalling, but not unique. One out of every 50 American children (1.5 million) are homeless. However, most of these live in one of 11 states. Washington is far from the worst, ranking 25th in the number of homeless children. The 10 states with the greatest percentages of homeless youth (in worsening order) are: California, Mississippi, Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas, Georgia, and Texas. In California, more than 200,000 teens between the ages of 12 and 17 are homeless on an any given night, with only 1,000 shelter beds available for teens. Homeless youth are often turned away or harassed at adult homeless shelters.

How serious is this problem?
Image by Shrued
Homeless children are twice as likely to experience hunger as other children. They are twice as likely as middle class children to have moderate to severe health problems. About 50% have anxiety and/or depression, which is not surprising considering that 42% of homeless youth who live on their own have been abused, while 25% have witnessed violence. Needless to say, this has a profound effect on their academic success, resulting in a doubling of the likelihood that they will have to repeat a grade in school, get expelled or drop out.

How does 2011-2012 Shape Up for Homeless Youth?
Many states, Washington included, are slashing programs that assist poor families and children in order to cut their budget deficits. In Washington, the governor wants to eliminate pre-school assistance for more than 1000 poor children, health benefits for 27,000 poor children, cut Basic Health Plan that covers 66,000 low income residents.

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