Often, when people think of homelessness, they forget about the impact it has on children. The number of homeless students in this country is growing. According to the National Center for Homeless Education, homeless student enrollment has risen steadily since the recession hit in 2007. As of the 2011-12 school year, the number of homeless schoolchildren reached an all-time high of 1.2 million. That is an unbelievable number!
Of course, there are many reasons for the increase — most of which can be attributed to the lingering economic downturn, such as layoffs, a lack of affordable housing, income inequality, and home foreclosures.
What makes matters worse is that even though the homeless numbers have increased, federal funding designated for homeless students has decreased. As a result, local and state social service agencies don’t have the money to provide adequate resources for the growing number of children and families seeking help.
Here at Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM), we are servicing more families in need every day. Families make up 49% of the homeless persons in our city each year. They come to us for emergency shelter, transitional and permanent housing, food, clothing, recreational activities, and academic support. We, like other similar organizations, have been impacted by cuts in federal, state and local funding. Often, we have to depend upon the generosity of our donors in order to provide resources for families.
Under the federal McKinney-Vento Education Act, school districts receive funding to help provide support to homeless students and their families. Districts are required to enroll homeless children — even though they don’t have a permanent address — and transport them to and from school. If the children are already enrolled in a school, they must be allowed to remain there.
Homeless students face different kinds of issues in the classroom. Children living in a crowded shelter or “doubled up” with relatives or friends are more likely to not get enough sleep. That makes it difficult for them to concentrate on their lessons. Some children may only get nutritious meals when they go to school. And, budget cuts have reduced the number of social workers available to counsel homeless students in school.
Perhaps the saddest realization of all is that these children are innocent victims. They can’t change their circumstances. No child should ever be homeless.