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The Politics of Child Homelessness

March 10, 2009

E.J. Manning

homeless-heartbreakChildren are the future of the United States and strong political capital as well. Many government programs, for better or worse, have hinged on the idea that children require special protections or rights. That concept hasn’t worked yet. The National Center of Family Homelessness now reports for 2005 to 2006, data that is a full two years old, that 1.5 million or roughly 2 percent of American children were without the definition of what the study calls a home. Immediately the relationship between the spike in home foreclosures and homelessness is drawn. This conclusion assumes that families are falling through the safety net that government has so carefully installed for Americans. Strangely, homeless statistics have remained relatively consistent over the last few decades. The implication is that little has been done within the small percentage of the population that remains homeless over time. Perhaps the statistics reveal more of a revolving door crisis for American families where shelter and homelessness are concerned.

For any that wonder, the definition of homelessness is on their website at familyhomelessness.org. Homeless children are considered to be doubled-up in overcrowded apartments with relatives or friends. Some children sleep in cars, campgrounds or live with relatives rather than live in a public shelter.

homeless-at-8The study points out the obvious facts of poor health, emotional problems and low graduation for the homeless child. It is easy to mourn the consequences that society must pay as a result of the national economic crisis. The study also suggests better monitoring through schools which portends more government authority and action potential in the arena of education. However, studies such as this conveniently forget the human equation that brought society to this tragic place where children and other homeless Americans are concerned. This includes the economic causes of the recent downturn. While such statistics are a tragedy, government statistics for the most impoverished children have changed little over the last several decades. It seems that the poor and disadvantaged are always with us despite our best efforts. So why the effort to highlight the extreme poverty of a small minority of children when big spending in government doesn’t net impressive results anyway?

Clearly grabbing the attention and hearts of American is one reason for highlighting the plight of children. Yet the study fails to address the education of the parents regarding available programs and help available for young mothers, the most implicated families that are facing this crisis. The study also fails to address the moral crisis in America and family breakup issues that plague the nation. Government seeks to offer social incentives through the IRS, yet nobody considers that poverty-stricken individuals are hard pressed to file taxes because of the expense of doing so and may not possess a usable permanent address to receive those benefits. What is worse, the executive summary in The Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress suggests that one-quarter of all sheltered homeless persons are less than 17 years of age. One-third of sheltered homeless persons were households with at least one child in 2005. The statistics  seem to indicate that most homeless women bring at least one child with them. In essence, one-third of the adult population also brings one-quarter of the total number of homeless people (children) in shelters.

One interesting fact remains that despite all of the statistics highlighted on their website, nowhere is there a mention of the importance of fathers or fatherhood relating to family. Family separation is discussed. Men are only insinuated. The consequences of a wretched life of abuse and mental illness are of special note. Clearly, the nation has forgotten the real importance of the American family along with the importance of encouraging men and women in families to stay together and learn to live in relative harmony. Instead, the political nation has accepted the fact that American families are horribly broken and does little beyond using a band-aid approach after the fact.

homeless-accessmentPage 31 of The Number and Characteristics of Homeless Persons reveals the truth about the statistics. Two-third of the homeless sheltered population are men. One-third of the homeless in shelters are women. Some women appear to have a disproportionally significant number of children for the statistics presented assuming that female heads of families have the children. Facts bear out that this is not always the case.

One fact is certain. After reading the report, it is clear that government has the direct power and access to women and children in shelters along with ability to step in to help if they cared to. These are also the individuals in the most severe crisis with regard to maintaining a roof over their heads. So why isn’t action being taken?

Apparently, we prefer to write reports to Congress over actually stepping in to take real action because this has been going on for years. Instead, we highlight the need of children while a sizeable number averaging about 72,000 nationwide at any given time can receive immediate assistance to secure a warm dry home with their needy parent. That isn’t being done. Instead, we are proposing an invasion of privacy and monitoring through the schools in an attempt to somehow keep tabs on children that drop from the system. Happily, children remain a relatively small number among the terminally homeless. The national blight of family breakdown is much larger than the most severe physical needs in a shelter. The infrastructure exists with public shelters to immediately cure the situation where children are concerned, yet we elect to do nothing but highlight the problem. What gives? ~ E. Manning

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