According to a new report by the National Center on Family Homelessness, the number of homeless children in the United States has reached an all-time high. Between 2012 and 2013, that number jumped 8% nationally, and by more than 10% here in the nation’s capital. In fact, this increase is part of a larger trend in youth homelessness. Whereas 1 in 50 children in the United States suffered from homelessness in 2006, an astonishing 1 in 30 American children are currently homeless.
With 2.5 million children and counting living without a home, it’s time for Congress to take action against this escalating injustice. Admittedly, combating homelessness is easier said than done. Homelessness, particularly youth homelessness, does not result from a single cause, but rather from a series of causes. Researchers at the National Center on Family Homelessness (NCFH) have identified “high poverty levels, insufficient affordable housing, [and] traumatic stress experienced by mothers” as just of few of the many forces driving the surge in youth homelessness.
To better understand the type of poverty that leads to homelessness, consider the fact that approximately 7% of Americans survive on an annual family income of $11,157 or less. With only $215 available on a weekly budget, these families are hard-pressed to find affordable housing. In fact, according to the NCFH, for every 100 families struggling with such extreme poverty, only 30 available housing units are available. Moreover, these housing units have a median waiting period of two years. In other words, even if a hardworking family in abject poverty manages to find affordable housing, they will most likely spend the next years without a home as they wait for their name to reach the top of the housing waitlist.
Despite increasing demand for affordable housing, federal and local governments have cut back on affordable housing programs, contributing to the rise in homelessness among young families and limiting opportunities for thousands of disadvantaged children. For example, between 1990 and 2010, the US demolished 200,000 public housing units while replacing only 50,000 units. Of the 150,000 families that lost their public housing, only 57,000 of them received housing vouchers, which merely increased the competition for affordable housing. However, even these voucher programs have experienced cutbacks in recent years. In fact, less than one fourth of the families that are eligible to receive federal housing assistance through the voucher programs received any aid in 2013.
In addition to the poverty and lack of affordable housing that prevents young families from acquiring a home, domestic violence correlates strongly with homelessness. In fact, “90 percent of homeless mothers have been assaulted by their partners, with children overwhelmingly exposed to similar acts of violence.” Homelessness and poverty make it difficult, if not impossible for these women to receive adequate help overcoming such trauma, creating an unjust cycle of homelessness and subjection to violence.
Ultimately, if Congress is serious about reversing the trend in youth homelessness, then it needs to reconsider their cuts to anti-poverty and affordable housing programs while bolstering programs that support the victims of domestic violence. By failing to address the root causes of youth homelessness, the United States not only fails a generation of young Americans born into an unjust system, but sets itself up for both moral and economic decline by failing to support the nation’s future leaders.