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Over One Million U.S. Kids Are Homeless

More than one million students in this country are homeless.

The number of homeless children is actually much higher. The U.S. Department  of Education, which released the one million figure this June,  included only “children enrolled in U.S. public preschools and kindergarten  through 12th grade for the 2010-2011 school year,” according to the Orlando Sentinel. As the Sentinel points  out, that excludes “infants, toddlers, preschool-aged children who aren’t  enrolled in public programs and homeless children who are home-schooled.” It  also excludes homeless teenagers who are not enrolled in school. The National Center on Family Homelessness estimates that the true number of homeless children in the U.S. is closer to 1.6 million.

Since the recession began in 2007, the number of homeless kids “in public  schools nationwide has increased 57 percent,” the Sentinel reports. It may be  that part of this increase is a result of efforts to enroll more homeless  children in school (as required by a federal law called the McKinney-Vento  Homeless Assistance Act), though undoubtedly the lion’s share is due to  increases in the number of homeless people in our country. Counting the members  of a population as transient (and often hidden) as the homeless is notoriously difficult and a perennial bone of contention between public  authorities and advocates, but one estimate, by the National Law Center on  Homelessness and Poverty, posited a number of 3.5 million homeless individuals  in 2009.

As a former professional advocate for policies to end homelessness, I learned  about the challenges homeless youth face. Children enrolled in school are often  forced to transfer schools if their shelters are in different school districts  than their homes were. Already suffering from the disruption of becoming  homeless, these students enter a school full of children and teachers they don’t  know and may face the stigma of being “the homeless kid.” (The McKinney-Vento  Act guarantees homeless children the right to remain in their original school,  as the National  Education Association notes, but it is not always enforced and “has never  been fully funded.”)

Most shelters are not suitable places to study. Families tend to sleep in one room, which is rarely furnished with a  desk and is often filled with the student’s family members. Quiet spaces are  rare. Some homeless students do their homework on the bus or train to school, if  they manage to do it at all.

Other homeless children are “doubled-up” in the homes of extended family  rather than staying in shelters. Together with siblings and parents, they crowd  in with relatives who may be near poverty themselves. Some children live with  their families in their cars or all together in one motel room. Again, these  conditions rarely afford students a quiet place to concentrate on their  homework.

Another obstacle to studying is that homeless kids may be too busy caring for  their younger siblings while their parents are at work or out looking for jobs.  According to a study from 1999 reported by The National Center on Family  Homelessness, 29 percent of adults in homeless families with children had  jobs.

Wherever they are staying, homeless children may have trouble focusing in  class not only because they were not able to do the homework, but also because  they may not have had enough to eat or a decent place to sleep, and they may be emotionally overwhelmed by  the upheavals in their personal lives. Sometimes they may not make it to school  at all because they do not have winter coats or shoes and it is too cold to go  outside.

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/over-one-million-u-s-kids-are-homeless....

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