When being poor is not enough: Defining homelessness

13 Feb

Many families either are, or know some one who is facing some tough choices in life because they have lost a job or had their income reduced. Ziba Kashef has a great Baby Center article, How to Talk to Your Child About Poverty and Homelessness The National Association for Education of Homeless Children and Youth provides Facts About Homeless Education:

How Many Children and Youth Experience Homelessness?
In the 2009-2010 school year, 939,903 homeless children and youth were enrolled in public schools. This is a a 38% increase from the 2006-2007 school year. It is important to note that this number is not an estimate of the prevalence of child and youth homelessness; in fact, it is an underestimate, because not all school districts reported data to the U.S. Department of Education, and because the data collected represents only those children identified and enrolled in school. Finally, the number does not include all preschool-age children, or any infants and toddlers.
The economic downturn and foreclosure crisis have had a significant impact on homelessness: according to a national survey, one in five responding school districts reported having more homeless children in the Fall of 2008 than over the course of the entire 2007-2008 school year.
Recent research indicates that child homelessness may be more widespread than school data suggest. A study published in the August 2009 edition of the American Journal of Public Health found that 7 percent of fifth-graders and their families have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, and that the occurrence is even higher – 11 percent – for African-American children and those from the poorest households. The study used a very narrow definition of homelessness, only including families living in shelters or on the streets. Yet even with this narrow definition, the study suggests that in a classroom of 28 fifth-graders, two students would have been homeless at some point in their lives.
How is Homelessness Defined?
The federal definition of homelessness used by all public schools in the United States includes children and youth who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. This definition specifically includes children and youth living in shelters, transitional housing, cars, campgrounds, motels, and sharing the housing of others temporarily due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or similar reasons. This is the same definition of homelessness used by Head Start, special education, child nutrition, and other federal family and youth programs.
The education definition of homelessness reflects the reality of family and youth homelessness. Emergency shelters in urban and suburban areas cannot meet demand, turning away requests for shelter. Many shelters place eligibility restrictions on families and youth; for example, many shelters do not admit families with adolescent boys, or do not allow unaccompanied minors. Rural and suburban areas may not have shelters at all. Families and youth may not have enough money to stay at a motel, or they may leave their homes in crisis, fleeing to the first available location. Youth who are homeless without an adult may be afraid to enter an adult shelter.
As a result of the lack of shelter, most students in homeless situations share housing with others temporarily, or stay in motels or other short-term facilities. These situations are precarious, damaging, crowded, unstable, and often unsafe, leading to extraordinary rates of mobility. According to the most recent federal data, of the children and youth identified as homeless and enrolled in public schools in the 2007-2008 school year, only 22 percent lived in shelters. Sixty-five percent lived doubled-up with other family members or friends, 7 percent lived in motels, and the remainder lived in unsheltered locations….
How Does Homelessness Affect Children and Youth’s Education?
In a life filled with uncertainty, loss, and deprivation, school is a place of safety, structure, and opportunity. Yet homeless children and youth face unique barriers to education. These barriers include being unable to meet enrollment requirements (including requirements to provide proof of residency and legal guardianship, and school and health records); high mobility resulting in lack of school stability and educational continuity; lack of transportation; lack of school supplies and clothing; and poor health, fatigue, and hunger. When these barriers are not addressed, homeless children and youth often are unable to attend, or even enroll in, school, which prevents them from obtaining the education that is both their legal right and their best hope of escaping poverty as adults.


The question of how homeless is defined is the subject of federal legislation.

Saki Knofo is reporting in the Huffington Post article, Homeless Advocates Divided Over Bill Aimed At Helping Kids:

Homeless kids have the right to an education. That’s the basic rationale behind the McKinney-Vento Act of 1987, a law meant to ensure that homeless kids receive the same quality of schooling as everyone else.

But with more families losing their homes as a result of the lingering effects of the recession, many homeless advocates say the law doesn’t go far enough to help them. Yet attempts by these advocates to change things have led to a bitter debate within the field of homelessness advocacy itself.

At the center of the debate is the question of who qualifies for government-subsidized housing. As it stands, anyone defined as homeless by the Department of Housing and Urban Development can apply for housing aid from the government. The problem is that HUD’s definition leaves out thousands who lack permanent homes — people who sleep on the couches of friends and relatives, or many who live in cramped motel rooms. Before approving aid in these cases, HUD requires proof that their arrangements are very tentative: either documentation of a lack of funds to afford a hotel room for more two weeks, or confirmation from the friend offering the couch that this setup can not be permanent. Providing such documentation is often a difficult hurdle for people living under these circumstances….

But not all advocates for the homeless are on board. The Corporation for Supportive Housing and the National Alliance to End Homelessness have opposed the bill, saying that it would expand the rolls of kids eligible for HUD aid without increasing the amount of funds. They worry that homeless people with the most pressing needs would suffer as a result.

“Our understanding is that this would have a bad impact on the worse-off kids,” said Steve Berg, an executive for the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “kids who are living on the streets and in abandoned buildings and in backs of cars.” Homeless advocates should devote their energy to getting Congress to enlarge the budget of HUD and other agencies that help the homeless, Berg said.

If Berg and his allies are now in the uncomfortable position of fighting a measure clearly intended to help homeless people, the same is true of several Democrats in the House. Representatives Maxine Waters, Mel Watt, and Luis Gutierrez — all established liberals — criticized the bill at the markup session.

To make the bill more palatable, Waters offered an amendment that would provide more funding for homeless children.


Poverty not only affects economic opportunities for children and families, but poverty affects a nation’s prospects for development and growth. The best way to eliminate poverty is job creation, job growth, and job retention. The Asian Development Bank has the best concise synopsis of the link between Education and Poverty A good indication of the level of need in a given community is the number of children who qualify for free or reduced price lunch. The Annie E. Casey Foundation has compiled data about the number of children who receive a Free or Reduced Price Lunch

What government should be focused on is job creation. It is difficult, if not impossible to create and support a family without a job. Strong and functioning families are a key element to a child’s educational success.


National Coalition for the Homeless


Dr. Wilda says this about that ©


One Response to “When being poor is not enough: Defining homelessness”


  1. Study: Poverty affects education attainment « drwilda - August 29, 2012

    […] When being poor is not enough: Defining homelessness https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/when-being-poor-is-not-enough-defining-homelessness/ […]

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