Homelessness Has Lasting Effects on Children

In a recent report, the Children’s Defense Fund noted that more than 1 million children enrolled in school for the 2011-2012 academic year were homeless. This figure represents a jump of 73 percent over pre-recession statistics. In addition, increasing numbers of American children lack access to nutritious food on a regular basis, with African-American and Latino families especially affected. And in today’s still-shaky economic climate, there are only about 30 affordable housing units for every 100 households with extremely low incomes.

Homelessness among families with young children is a significant problem. Children experiencing homelessness may have their educations interrupted, with detrimental long-term consequences. Homelessness has negative implications for children’s mental and physical health and neurological development; it holds back academic progress and the learning of social skills; and it creates a cycle of stress for the child and the entire family. Young people who are homeless are significantly more likely than their peers to be suspended from school, drop out, or have to repeat a grade. They are also more likely to lag behind developmentally and to experience learning disabilities.

About one-half of school-age homeless children are clinically depressed or suffer from anxiety, and about one-fifth of the preschoolers in homeless families need remedial counseling because of emotional problems. In addition to these mental health issues, these children are several times more likely to experience chronic conditions such as asthma and respiratory infections or to become obese due to poor nutrition.