The impact of homelessness on children and their families is devastating. Without a place to call home, children are challenged by unpredictability, insecurity, and chaos. Families experiencing homelessness are vulnerable; most have experienced extreme poverty, residential instability, and violence, and many parents have limited education and work histories.
Often, families who are homeless have experienced ongoing trauma in the form of childhood abuse and domestic and community violence, as well as the traumas associated with poverty and the loss of home, safety, and sense of security. These experiences can significantly impact how children and adults think, feel, behave, relate to others, and cope. A constant barrage of stressful and traumatic experiences can have profound effects on a child’s development and his/her ability to learn, ultimately affecting success in life. Consider the following national statistics:
In the United States:
- Homeless families with children represent 41 percent of the U.S. homeless population and are the fastest growing segment, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors; nearly half of homeless people in suburban and rural areas are in families with children. From 2009 on, homeless families increased by 9% or more annually.
- According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, the number of families who are homeless has been increasing throughout the U.S. in recent years, including an increase by 38 percent from 2007-2010. More than 1.6 million (1 in 45) children under the age of 18 were homeless in the U.S. in 2010.
- According to data by the U.S. Department of Education, for the first time in history, during the 2010-2011 school year, public schools identified more than one million homeless students. This is the highest number on record.
- HUD reports that people don’t get foreclosed on or lose their job and go to the homeless shelter the next day, they use up their resources, stay with friends and family – it takes quite a while before they become homeless. And HUD acknowledges that a lot more families were doubling and tripling up in houses from 2009 on, numbers not reflected in the homeless statistics.
- The face of homelessness is changing to include a wider swath of the American population – skilled and unskilled, educated and uneducated, rural and urban – while those bearing the greatest brunt of this change are children.
- 31% of single parent families attributed their homelessness to a breakdown in their family in a study reported in the American Journal of Public Health; only 20% claimed it was due to economic hardship.
- Over 8% of Wisconsin’s seniors live in poverty.
- Over 7,000 homeless per year
- Estimated 40% are children
While Northeastern Wisconsin is unique in many respects from the rest of the country, when it comes to homelessness, we’re right on par. Consider the following statistics:
In Brown County:
- Freedom House saw twice the number of families entering its center in 2009 over 2008 – well before the brunt of the economic crisis had hit and the numbers increased every year since.
- There is a growing shortage of affordable housing in Brown County.
- According to research conducted by public schools, children who experience homelessness from a very young age have a great disadvantage in cognitive development due to lack of food, proper shelter and increased stress.
- As of March 2013, 1,055 children were reported homeless in Brown County in 2012-2013 school year; the number is expected to exceed 1,300 by the end of the school year. By comparison, there were 600 in 2008 and 1,200 in 2011/12.