Over half of children living in federally funded homeless shelters are five years old or younger1. Many more young children live in other homeless situations, such as in motels or cars; or, living temporarily with others due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason. These children live in conditions of poverty that contribute directly to physical, mental, and emotional difficulties (Burt et al., 1999). Consider the following statistics from the National Center on Family Homelessness (1999, p. 2):
- Infants who are born into homelessness need special care right after birth at four times the rate of other children.
- Homeless babies show significantly slower development than other children do.
- Homeless children have very high rates of acute illness.
- More than one-fifth of homeless children between three and six years of age have emotional problems serious enough to require professional care.
In sum, the poverty and unsafe living conditions that accompany homelessness subject young homeless children to a steady barrage of stressful circumstances and traumatic events during what are believed to be the most critical years for their emotional and intellectual development (Shore, as cited in National Center for Children in Poverty, 1999).
Source: National Center for Homeless Education at SERVE and the Administration for Children and Families, US Department of Health and Human Services