Nation marks shameful record: Number of homeless students surges to 1.17 million


by Félix Pérez and Dan Davis/image by Dorothea Lange

As cold winter weather takes hold for the next four months in many parts of the country, a record number of students face a stress-filled future as they and their families struggle to maintain a fundamental necessity of human existence: shelter.

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The number of homeless students enrolled in preschools and K-12 schools in the 2011-2012 school year (1,168,354) is the highest number on record and a 10 percent increase over the previous school year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education [editorial note: PDF document].

The number of homeless students increased 72 percent since the beginning of the recession in 2008 and is greater than the population of eight states: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.

“Students in homeless families can attend between three and five schools in one given school year, and during the transfer periods between schools, there’s no schooling at all, and they fall behind, adding to the general chaos of the child experiencing homelessness,” Diana Bowman, director of the National Center for Homeless Education, told Education Votes.

Said Bowman:

When a child experiences such prolonged hunger and fatigue, he or she isn’t able to come to school ready to learn, as basic needs aren’t being met.

Diana Bowman
Diana Bowman

Twenty-five states experienced double-digit increases, and 10 of those saw a jump of 20 percent or more. North Dakota’s 212 percent growth led the way; it had 2,712 homeless students. The state with the second highest surge, 58 percent, was Maine, whose homeless student population rose from 991 to 1,564.

“Children and youth who are homeless suffer, and this data confirms what the homeless youth field has been seeing on the ground, the number of homeless youth and families in need of housing and services has been increasing as local and state supports have decreased,” said Darla Bardine, policy director of the National Network for Youth, a  network of homeless and runaway youth programs. “Congress needs to act with urgency in scaling up the housing, care and support these children and youth need to succeed.”

Bowman added, “Homeless students should be able to depend on their school as a source of stability, free of the chaos that’s so common in their lives. It’s full of supportive adults and peers, and really a hub of stability.”

Worsening the homeless student crisis is the sequester, congressionally approved across-the-board cuts to federal programs such as Title I, which provides funding for low income schools. The program has been slashed by $740 million, affecting nearly 1.2 million students. Head Start programs across the country have suffered from the federal government’s indiscriminate spending cuts as well, forced to eliminate services for 57,000 children. Head Start provides preschool to low-income families, as well as free meals and medical care in many communities.homeless child in food line

“Children and youth who are homeless struggle with hunger, trauma, and illness; they move frequently and fall behind in school,” said Barbara Duffield, policy director of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. “Yet education is the surest path out of poverty. If we wish to prevent another generation of children from becoming homeless adults, we must meet their basic needs and ensure a stable, supportive school environment.”

The record rise in the number of homeless students comes on the heels of a report from the Southern Education Foundation that found that the majority of students in 17 states are from low-income families.

Reader Comments

  1. A home, a family, food, shelter from the heat or cold, and a public
    education are all factors that should enter into the economic progress
    of a nation. Unfortunately, the United States is NOT

  2. I wrote the 2006 article (below) with the hope homelessness in America might finally be genuinely addressed. However,I challenged the national estimates then of 3.5 million homeless, of which 1.35 million consisted of children. These statistics were already 15 years old in 2006. I would estimate the current homeless population at roughly 15 million, which (I believe) is still a very concervative estimate, especially when you break down the multitude of factors that drive people into homelessness today.

    Maybe the best way to showcase this tragedy is to place these human casualties alongside a snapshot of U. S. Military expenditures for one year. The Military Industrial Complex (Eisenhower warned us of), hogged 58% of the U.S. Budget in 2010, according to the National Priorties Project Inc. This percentage is still roughly in the same ballpark, today. Hopefully putting the facts on the table in this way will finally insprie the policial will for Congress to act, but don’t hold your breath, given the toxic climate on Captiol Hill. Lara DeLuz

    Homelessness Is Everyone’s Affair, Not Just For the Efforts of a Few

    By Lara DeLuz

    My first full realization of homelessness hit as I was waking up shivering one cold, damp and foggy November morning in 1991. The pain in my lower back was excruciating not to mention the numbness in my legs and feet. I was attempting to raise myself to a seated position in response to pleads from my two little daughters crying out, “Mommy, I’m hungry,” and, “Will we find a house today?” I’m not sure which pain paralyzed me more, the pain that immobilized my lower body from lying in a contorted position all night long, with one eye open (being too afraid to sleep), or the pain and fear that gripped my heart as I looked into the eyes of the most precious things in this world to me, my two innocent little daughters. How do you explain to a child (let alone two of them), they are homeless? Furthermore, how do you get them to understand that mommy doesn’t know when we’ll have a home again, because we are broke; and, every shelter in town is full?

    No one is ever prepared for homelessness, because no one thinks it can happen to them. I know I didn’t. So, how do you get children to accept, as they wake up on a raw, winter morning in their car, you don’t know when they will see their warm cozy beds surrounded by clowns, mountains of teddy bears and dolls again? And, how do you explain to them that the stability they’ve come to expect in their lives that always brought the wonderful smells of breakfast, the warmth of a fireplace, hot cocoa and mommy’s joyful hugs and kisses is not there for them this morning? All mommy can do now is hold them as she steadies her trembling hands praying for the courage and strength to find a way. I’ve always had a deep and abiding faith in God. However, this particular morning, all I could do was raise my fist and scream quietly to “Him,” why us? Only a few months before, our lives were moving forward. We had plans, goals and dreams. Now life seemed little more than a cruel joke. However, despite my anger, I knew deep in my heart that homelessness wasn’t God’s plan; instead, it’s a condition born out of human ignorance, stupidity and indifference.

    Living in a quiet community in California, minding our business, a young gang maliciously signaled us out. For no logical or viable reason they meddled us (at first) by day and eventually at night. Four months later, there was extensive damage to our car and our nerves were badly shattered. The police could see the people who were responsible, but catching them in the act was another matter entirely. The night I watched the knobs and locks literally move on my front and back door was the last night we spent in that dwelling and in that town.

    On disability, recovering from a stroke, my expenses pretty much matched my income; we were “caught, literally, between a rock and a hard place.” To cut moving and storage costs I gave away half of our cherished items. Some of these articles included beautiful furniture, a lovely doll collection, assorted appliances and clothing.

    To this day I cannot say why it started, other than; I called the police when dents, whose origin was initially unknown, showed up on my car. The streets became our new home. You don’t hang around when a gang wants to hurt you.

    Unable to afford a new place, we stayed in a motel until that ate us up financially; and then the car became home for a short time, a virtual hotel on wheels. Local shelters that were immersed in their own crisis drew daily lines of homeless families several city blocks long. Already strained to capacity, they were understaffed, overworked and trying to manage their tiny operations on shoe-string budgets. Clearly, their concern showed as they were forced, repeatedly, to turn away countless men, women and children.

    Attempting to keep some structure in our lives, I tried to maintain some semblance of the “normalcy” we enjoyed in our home life. I continued to tell bed time stories and recited nightly prayers, which was followed by wrapping my little ones up in their coats and sleeping bags for another long cold night. Between sobs and rubbing my hands and face to maintain body heat, I literally became a human blanket as I gently covered my babies, while they slept. A car heater is comforting, but only when it was on. We had to consider gas. Our money was dreadfully low, and food was the priority.
    There came a point, however, when the money was finally gone and the agony of trying to live in a car forced me to swallow what was left of my pride. I showed up on the doorsteps of people, in some cases, I hardly knew, because I couldn’t bear to watch my children suffer any longer. Eventually, after almost two months of agonizing struggles, we were able to secure a small apartment thanks to the compassion of a kind and understanding landlord. By now I had learned to stop smoothing things over and was speaking candidly about our plight. It takes courage to walk up to a stranger in a city you know little about, state your situation, lay down all your cash and suggest some reasonable terms for the next couple of months. When you are struggling to survive and get on your feet, you don’t worry anymore about what others will think or say. You simply utilize the truth and do what you must to escape hell.

    Though our ordeal with homelessness lasted a little under two months, it was the longest period of our lives. Besides being brutally traumatizing, the experience sent my little ones into a deep depression that crushed what was left of my heart. It took every bit of the next six years to build our psyches and emotions back to a place known as “safe.” Since then, my philosophy about material possessions and life has changed dramatically. Things can always be replaced, but rebuilding the human spirit takes considerable effort and tremendous courage. Despite our cruel jolt in reality, we survived and grew.

    However, as I look around California, and the many towns and cities dotting America, my heart breaks, again. Homelessness, which is everyone’s problem, is an epidemic. The day is gone when we can rely on faulty perceptions that have led some of us to believe, “they” or “those people” will, somehow, go away and get it together. We need to honestly look at the reasons “they” came to be there. And realize, the reasons for homelessness are as varied as there are people. Illness is a factor for some, while for others it’s domestic violence.

    Some come as victims of crime, while for others it’s the loss of a job. Many working poor and others living on fixed incomes are literally one paycheck from the streets. Homelessness can also result from a combination of situations, compounded by bureaucratic bungling, as was the case with me. And yet for others, the reasons can reach even deeper into life as we survey our human casualties of past wars who have been abandoned by an unappreciative and apathetic society.

    And yes, there are substance abusers and the mentally ill among the homeless, too, as with every other walk of life. Seeing some of these individuals humbled me and exposed the harm that comes from judging others without benefit of a profound insight into the human heart, of which only God qualifies. Like us, many of these individuals have a history that has left its share of wounds, too. I also realized, their misfortune (in a sense) is ours, especially when ignored. Tragically, it is this latter group that public perception distinguishes as the consummate image of homelessness. Somewhere along the way, it has conveniently escaped our attention that homelessness is a condition that harbors people of every age, color and background, and this includes families, too.

    I am also of the opinion that homelessness, though preventable, has accelerated in part due to our indifference towards one another, today, which contrasts an earlier period in our history when neighbor reached out to help neighbor. What’s more, if you think life will never place you in the position of being without the basic amenities, think again. While I was homeless, I encountered individuals who (unlike me) had realized and lost every façade of the “American dream.”

    Coming to grips with my own situation, my grandparent’s came to mind and the fact some things never seem to change. Like millions, they endured the Great Depression of the thirties that ensued after a failed Market that was and still is driven by greed. How shocked they would be to know people still wait in bread lines, eat at soup kitchens and sleep on the streets. The difference now is that we are besieged by a more virulent form of economic exploitation that assumes countless guises. Again, the pillars of society are nothing more than yesterday’s robber barons that, in many instances, go unpunished for the harm they inflict upon millions. Even worse are the rare cases where charges are leveled, wherein punishment (if allotted at all) is seldom commensurate to the offense.

    Rather than stress about the volatility of a Market with an established track record of questionable practices, my concern rests more with the disingenuous entities (like Enron) that have yet to be exposed, and what this type of recurring behavior suggests about our “values” in these trying times. Equally disturbing is the implication that some of this intrigue may reach into the upper ranks of government that appears to be manned more by the top CEO’s of the fortune 500 “companies” than the grass root concerns that represent the real entities in America. This all becomes even more unforgivable against the huge backdrop of a war running in the billions of dollars that’s generating an even greater toll with respect to the loss in human life, as millions of Americans, increasingly, fall at risk of becoming homelessness here at home.

    If we open our eyes, part of the solution to homelessness is in view. There are countless abandon buildings, vacant lots and former military installations throughout this country. Another resource is “…we the people, in order to form a more perfect union…,” can unite and end the secession that has divided this nation into haves and have nots by insuring inclusion and justice for all. We can also aspire towards a new awareness that rejects the belief that poverty and inferiority are inseparable. Too, there is a thing called human ingenuity; the homeless can be utilized in their own renaissance. They have capable hands, good minds and assorted talents. Armed with education, job security, a viable wage, affordable and decent housing and healthcare, America’s greatest resource would flourish by leaps and bounds. Finally, there is the alliance of government and industry that can be politically harnessed and reformed into a tremendous tool for good by a caring and informed electorate. Our choice is clear, we will either embrace the idea of public sovereignty and humanitarian priorities or future archeologists will be assessing what drove us to ruin.

    I shudder to think of where we would have gone had a local charity, which was almost forced to close its doors, not, been available to us on a cold, dizzily December morning in 1991. I will never forget the warm hug from a nameless and caring soul there who held me and my daughters as we cried. It was in that moment, given this wonderful lady’s reassuring words and heartfelt compassion, that I knew our healing had begun.

    Perhaps we will earnestly tackle the issue of homelessness or the bigger picture, poverty, or at least grapple with the reasons people end up this way. Of course, this will require vacating our comfort zone, overhauling attitudes and making a decided shift towards “values” and priorities that place human welfare at the top of our national agenda. Then, maybe, we’ll realize that somewhere in those huddled masses might rest: the genius to cure dreaded diseases, the vision to actualize global accord, the knowledge to end famines, and those who would safeguard integrity in our political and business dealings, both here and abroad. The potential for good is infinite when we ban together to eradicate all manner of injustice.

    Sidebar to Homelessness

    Though a small segment of the population is “chronically homeless,” there are no definitive statistics for such disparity at the national, state or local levels, primarily, because homelessness (for many) is a transient situation. Sadly, because homeless counts reflect only those fortunate enough to receive services, those same tallies fail to reveal that millions more are turned away for lack of available resources. What’s more, homelessness tends to impact rural communities more harshly than urban areas.

    Based on a study conducted by the Urban Institute in 2004, the best approximation of homelessness nationally suggests that at least 3.5 million people, of which 1.35 million are children (though I believe this figure is substantially higher), experience homelessness annually, with the prospect that many more Americans are at risk of becoming homelessness than ever before.

    The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) suggests some of the most compelling arguments as to why homelessness is on the increase nationwide owes to a continuing shortage of affordable housing, extending back some 20-25 years, along with a simultaneous increase in poverty. In fact, a recent study by Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) revealed that 5.4 million low-income, unassisted American households had the worst case housing needs, paying more than 70% of their income on rent, in many instances, for substandard housing. Of these households, 68% had at least one person working.

    Given the absence of definitive figures, and the fact that 37 million Americans (U.S. Census 2005) know poverty up close and personal, aggravated by economic difficulties that are escalating poverty nationwide, actual need far outstrips existing efforts to tackle this problem across the board. Homeless advocates suggest, “A missed paycheck, a health crisis, or an unpaid bill pushes poor families over the edge into homelessness.”

    NCH asserts that at heart of this problem are eroding employment opportunities for large segments of the workforce, stagnant or falling incomes and less secure jobs, which offer fewer benefits, including the declining value and availability of public assistance that have exacerbated homelessness nationwide. The Coalition also contends that in times of economic growth, fiscal gain, in actuality, is realized by the top income and wealth distributions. Paradoxically, those earning at or near minimum wage continue to fall considerably short of what most Fair Housing Market rents require for housing, especially after basic necessities are considered. Disturbingly then, working affords no relief from poverty for millions. “Thus,” NCH asserts, “a rising tide does not lift all boats, and in the United States today, many boats are struggling to stay afloat.”

    Other factors cited by the Coalition owe to the real story behind declining welfare rolls, and the inherent problems with fixed incomes, along with a pervasive lack of affordable healthcare, nationwide. Though NCH contends welfare rolls have dropped significantly, they suggest, “Only a small fraction of recipients’ new jobs, following The Welfare Reform Act of 1996, actually paid above minimum wage,” which still holds true. Similarly, millions of Social Security recipients, and SSI beneficiaries, receive incomes that fall far short of most Fair Market Rents required nationwide. Curiously, Bush wanted to privatize Social Security at a time when many of this program’s recipients were already at risk of becoming homeless on the benefits they receive. Finally, it is argued that a lack of affordable healthcare, especially with the onset of illness, can lead to a downward spiral resulting in job loss, depleted savings and eventual eviction, among other catastrophic problems, as was the case with me.

    Ironically, the current Administration’s policy is characterized by a 200 million increase to homeless programs for FY06, while severely cutting mainstream social programs, which critics suggest will only exacerbate homelessness, across-the-board.
    The President’s priorities become even more skewed as he cuts 413 billion from domestic spending for FY06, while endorsing a 1.3 trillion extension in tax breaks that exclusively benefits America’s wealthiest. Add to this his recent request for billions more to support a war that many believe is more about the weapons of mass deception than anything else, and eyebrows lift even higher. One has to ask the question, is bankrupting the American public the price of world dominance these days?

    Finally, regardless of how Bush ignores the polls, overlooks environmental concerns, rewrites the laws, subverts dissent or attempts to elongate the powers of the Chief Executive, the glaring fact is, with the onset of his lassoed Presidency in 2001, the public debt has gone from 5.8 trillion dollars to 8.3 trillion today. He can no longer justify horrific tax breaks to the rich against a growing myriad of economic imbalances across the board, along with 37 million people with nowhere to go.

    Homelessness, in America, has assumed the level of a human rights crisis that is increasingly claiming those from the middle income brackets. Given the choppy economic waters of our time, further fueled by powerful commercial concerns exerting greater political control over our government, and the erosion of once cherished American ideals, our only direction is up. What will the ultimate toll for millions amount to before viable solutions are waged against this needless national tragedy?

    North American Reprint Serial Rights, September 2006
    by: Lara DeLuz
    Word Count: 2,848 Revised 09:06

    Published: Progressive Populist, etc.

  3. The plutocratic move toward “State Capture,” “globalism,” “transnationalism,” “multinationalism,” whatever you want to call it, has consolidated wealth at the top like we haven’t seen in 100 years!
    Through policies written and voted for by a corrupt legislature, that have benefitted corporate America (FTAs, Bank deregulation (repeal of Glass-Steagall), tax policy (carried interest, dividends, capital gains that tax the rich at half the rate of middle class earned income), loopholes, exemptions, itemized deductions, credits, subsidies that incentivize the off shoring of USA manufacturing jobs to 3rd world nations that once employed our blue collar tradesmen, put food on the table, their kids through school, money in the bank, gave them a sense of worthiness and community, as well as payed into local, State, and Federal treasuries, elevating the USA to the world’s most dynamic consumer market economy, we have witnessed the gutting of the middle class consumer market, and the consolidation of wealth at the top like we haven’t seen in 100 years.

  4. What has been the response to severe poverty since Clinton took a machete to the safety net? Some recite the call for job creation as the answer to poverty, as we’ve been doing for over 30 years. That’s nice, but in the meantime, you can’t buy a loaf of bread with promises of eventual jobs. Not everyone can work, due to health or circumstances, and we no longer have jobs for all who need one. Since Reagan, we’ve shipped out the bulk of our manufacturing jobs. How many people are a single job loss from losing absolutely everything, with no way back up? How do you get a job without a home address, phone, bus fare? People need basic humanitarian aid, food and shelter, not contempt. What should we do about all those who are currently of no use to employers? No one has an answer, so we all just pretend the poor don’t exist.

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