Yesterday, the National Center on Family Homelessness released a report on the extent of homelessness among America’s children.  The results were stunning: 1 out of every 50 children — around 1.5 million total children — will go to sleep this evening without a home. 

These tough economic times have been rough on families.  But this is a systemic problem not just due to economic collapse, but also a lack of a comprehensive strategy for children and family programs nationwide.

We have a tear in the nation’s social contract, and these children are falling through it. In increasing numbers, too, since the last survey ten years ago showed fewer homeless children.  

A school official in Nevada asked ABC’s Brian Ross why so much bailout money was going to banks, but what was being done for families across America?  Isn’t it time we all started asking?

Via the Sacramento Bee:

Homelessness is "very, very difficult on children," said Burke. "They have lost their whole known world. They no longer have their neighborhood friends. They may have left a pet behind. Their parents are very stressed. They’re in a new school. It’s overwhelming for them."… 

The national report…calls for programs that would give needy people better access to affordable housing, increases in nutrition programs for homeless youngsters, expanded health services for needy families, and improved access to early childhood education for homeless youngsters.

And Sacramento is not alone. You see similar issues in Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Texas and Nevada — and everywhere in between:

Families with children comprise roughly one-third of the nation’s homeless population. Poverty continues to be a core reason for the crisis, though the aftermath of Hurrican[e] Katrina combined to swell the numbers in Louisiana, Texas and Georgia. Since the 1980s, single mothers have accounted for an increasing share of the homeless population, partly because of increased divorced rates, gender and wage disparities, and the shrinking supply of affordable housing. Officials believe that the current home foreclosure crisis will be adding a new demographic to these statistics: middle-class blacks and Latinos. "It’s families that were living pretty independently, doing pretty well. And, through just one event, it was, like, a domino effect — if one part of the puzzle breaks off, then everything breaks off," says Michael Levine, who coordinates social work programs for Hillsborough, Fla.’s 206,000-student school system.

We are mortgaging the nation’s future by failing to plan and failing to care for the most vulnerable among us. When will we realize that early investment in children and families social programs has a long-term yield for us all?

Prior articles in this child poverty series:  making child poverty a priority;  mortgaging the nation’s future Part I and Part II; better childhood nutrition Part I and Part IIgive kids a head start; bringing poverty to the table Part I and Part II; true compassion; will children be casualties of the stimulus compromise?; and bass-ackwards: who tells at risk children they aren’t worth our effort?.

(Youtube — ad for a children’s homeless shelter and services program in MA. Very effective spot.)

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com