Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Child Homelessness Close to Home

Homelessness is easy for most people to distance themselves from.

It happens to 'other people'. They are people who are irresponsible, who need to 'take care of their business'. They are frightening, lazy, criminal, public health nuisances. Those are the adults.

But then there are the children. It is (or it ought to be) much more difficult to dismiss the children of parents who are homeless through no fault of their own. It happens because of illness, divorce, domestic violence, financial misfortune that can result from the repossession of a house or eviction from an apartment. There are 1.5 million of these children in our country and they are rarely thought of when people opine about how the homeless ought not be the responsibility of the rest of us.

According to the National Center of Family Homelessness, Texas ranks 50th in the nation in child homelessness. This means, according to the report that when it comes to the extent of homelessness, childhood well being among homeless children, the risk of child homelessness and state policy and planning Texas is dead last.

Poverty in and of itself is a problem in the Lone Star state. More than 2.1 million children live in families which are classified as poor. Forty per cent of those children are white, 46% Hispanic and 13% are African-American. One quarter of them are without any health insurance. When we talk about the 'undeserving poor', we more often than not, don't think of them.

Each year, the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, a consortium of agency which provide services to the poor and homeless, conduct an annual homeless count. The 2009 numbers have not been compiled yet, but in 2008 there were nearly 6000 homeless people counted. There are two things you need to remember about this census: a) it is highly likely that this represents an under count - not because MDHA intentionally under counts the homeless, but because many of them don't want to be found b) the 6000+ homeless in Dallas County will be significantly higher this year because of the economy.

Of those 6000+ homeless citizens of Dallas, more than 700 are youth and children. Twenty-two percent of these children are between the ages of 4-6. The largest group are ages 1-3 at 23%.

Enough of the stats for now. I guess the upshot of all of this is that the issue of homelessness is not just a matter of who 'deserves' to be helped. There are a number of things that a number of people who find themselves homeless 'could' have done or maybe 'should' have done. I think we ought to work on those things. Call it personal responsibility; call it greater accountability; call it planning ahead - let's work on all of those things.

But while we're working on all of those things - aren't there some things we could be and should be doing? I mean, before we consign a generation of children to a life that we wouldn't wish for our own?

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