24/12/2011 - For some children in the US, this Christmas may be the first they spend away from home and in shelters, motels, cars or the like. The reason: child homelessness is on the rise in the US due to the impact of the global recession.
Child homelessness in the United States is on the rise. With the number of children living in shelters, cars or low-rent motels up 38 per cent since 2007, this holiday season may be the first some youngsters are not spending in their homes.
Last year alone, there were 1.6 million homeless children living in the US, said the Massachusetts-based National Center on Family Homelessness.
According to the centre, Reuters reports, the problem has its roots in the social fallout from the global recession and the number of poverty-stricken households headed by women.
Ellen Bassuk is the centre’s president as well as psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School. Health problems and academic under-achievement are both associated with childhood homelessness she told Reuters. These vulnerable youth are without the support they need to succeed.
The US Census Bureau also found that almost half of Americans (48 per cent) are living on low incomes. The Bureau, using its Supplemental Poverty Measure for 2010, declares that a family of four is poor if the household income is less than $24,343 per year.
In the past, homelessness has usually been associated with adults and alcohol or drug dependency issues, Reuters notes. But child homelessness in its present form is a relatively new problem.
Families accounted for less than 1 per cent of the national homeless population in the mid-1980s period. Now, they make up about 3 per cent of this population. Single-parent families (single-moms especially) are particularly affected.
But, the US is not the only country to be affected by the recession in this way. Globally, the world is home to an estimated 100 million street children, says the United Nations (UN).
“In addition to violence, discrimination and stigma, street children also lack basic rights such as education, health care, food and adequate living conditions. They can easily be exposed to exploitative work, drug and harsh punishment for small offences. They may also face serious health problems including HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, earlier this year.
Economic shocks are also known to impact childhood homelessness. A working paper published by the Overseas Development Institute in 2009, cites research stating that after the Asian financial crisis, there was a rise in the number of street youth by about 10-15 per cent in Thailand. The paper, entitled “Children in Times of Economic Crisis: Past lessons, Future Policies,” notes that even higher increases were seen in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Here in Canada, the National Alliance for Children and Youth released a backgrounder on one project, entitled “Taking Stock: Supporting Canadian Child and Youth Agencies in Economic Crisis.” The group observed that while Canada has been the last country to be impacted by the crisis and the most stable to emerge from it, its member agencies have experienced or documented evidence of increased homelessness and families-at-risk.