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How Homelessness Impacts Childhood Development

Written by: Ruth Leal, Volunteer Coordinator and VISTA Member

As a VISTA, we go through an introductory training that explains us the depths of poverty in America. Furthermore, we are assigned to give it our spin in the areas we work on- in my case it’s homelessness. I did a bit of research focused on how homelessness and poverty share a relationship when it comes to childhood development -among others thing, of course.

I looked at the report from the Children’s Defense Fund, between the years of 2011 and 2014. And the report reviewed childhood poverty in America and its effects in childhood health care, homelessness and late life development – chances of incarceration or chronic illness in their adult life, for example. The report estimated that, “in 2013, on a single night in January, 138,149 children were homeless in shelters, transitional housing, or on the streets. Making up nearly one quarter (23%) of all homeless people counted that night. Among these children, 6,197 were unaccompanied and 3,675 were unaccompanied and unsheltered.”

Moreover, the current population survey CPS ASEC from the US Census Bureau, showed the poverty rate for children under the age of 18 in 21.1% for the year 2014.  And if that was not enough, the same report from the Children’s Defense Fund estimated that, homeless children are more likely to go hungry, with one third reported to have skipped a meal. In reference to a child’s development in poverty-like conditions, the National Center for Children in Poverty had revealed that unsafe living conditions that accompany homelessness, subject children to a steady stream of stressful situations and traumatic events during what some experts believe are “the most critical years of their development.”  Fewer meals, an unstable home and limited access to health care may decrease a child’s opportunity of moving upward and succeeding.

Fortunately, the data collected through the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care’s (GRCoC) Point-in-Time counts shows, that for the City of Richmond, only 8.3% of the surveyed population were homeless families with children. And between the years, 2010 to 2014, the State of Virginia reduced Family Homelessness by 25%. HomeAgain, together with its community partners, attempts to streamline the available resources for families facing a housing crisis.

The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness has jumpstarted the “Open Doors” project, approved by congress in 2010. This project has within its goals, preventing and ending homeless for families with children and youths by the year 2020. We hope that we can reach that goal much sooner, and make family homelessness a rare and nonrecurring event. Families facing possible eviction or suffering from homelessness can dial 2-1-1 or connect with Commonwealth Catholic Charities (GRCoC’s Homeless Point of Entry) by calling at: 804.648.4177, for assistance