Homeless Children: The Growing Epidemic

What I heard, What I saw, and What I Intend To Do About It.

The typical image of a homeless person is a male in his mid 30’s to late 60”s living in abject poverty. You see him hanging out at soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and on street corners. His mobility includes shuffling between makeshift street locations while sleeping on steam grates, in doorways, under roadway overpasses or temporary housing shelters when available. We may see these men at busy street intersections with creative signs often depicting some religious message, the most common being the favorite ‘God loves You” – or – ‘God Bless You” – or – “Disabled Veteran.” We often walk, or drive quickly by them without establishing eye contact thereby avoiding the guilt of not either wanting to, or having the ability to offer assistance. We assume they represent the majority of homeless people in any major city across America and around the world – and their circumstances are due to their own misjudgment, or laziness, or for reasons within their control.

However, this word picture of the homeless population is not an accurate one. It does not reflect the true reality of homelessness. The unfortunate reality is that single men represent only a small fraction of the homeless population in America, and most major cities across the globe. The faces you don’t see are families who now make up more than 44 percent of this homeless population - particularly in America. Among this 40% are more than 1.5 million homeless children. The statistics are alarming and growing each day. According to the numbers calculated by The National Center on Family Homelessness, 39% percent of the homeless population consists of children less than 18 years of age. 40% of homeless children are less than five years old. 85% percent of homeless families are headed by single mothers. It is estimated by the NCFH that these children’s are homeless at lease ten to eleven months at a time – and their homelessness continues through adulthood.

As bad as this may sound it is nothing new – in America. What is new are the numbers which has grown significantly in the past ten years, spiking within the past two years - partly due to the current mortgage crisis resulting in an astronomical rate of home foreclosures. There are various reasons for the increase in homeless families which include the inability of the parents to find decent paying jobs allowing them the opportunity for alternative, affordable housing. Other factors may include the inability of the parents to find any form of employment at all. Draw your own conclusions and it will not change the fact that the poverty rate among child homelessness in America has risen to more than 19 percent which is much higher than any other age group. Other factors of child homelessness, according to The NCFH include parent substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, and jail or prison release, to include changes or cuts in public assistance programs designed to help families stay above the poverty line. In the early 1990’s the welfare reform legislation was drastically changed resulting in a significant decrease in the number of families receiving benefits. During this time frame the numbers on the welfare rolls dropped drastically but not because of employment or families suddenly receiving financial stability. They were simply dropped from the system because of lack of government funding of social programs. Many families who were receiving welfare benefits struggled to get needed medical care, food, and housing. In addition, many lost health insurance, despite their eligibility for continued Medicaid.

While these sudden changes in the system affected millions of low to moderate income families it hit the children the hardest. While most went from a stable home to no home at all, others were born homeless. Statistical data from the NCFH suggests that homeless children often face surmountable problems from the time of birth, continuing throughout their formative years. The NCFH’s data also concludes that this population are four times more likely to have a low birth weight and more likely to need special care immediately after birth, particularly in the area of nutrition. Homeless children experience hunger and starvation at rates twice as high as other children contributing to learning disabilities due to malnutrition and poor self-esteem. This reality, accompanied with poor living conditions weakens a child's resistance to disease resulting in long term illness. Homeless children suffer from various medical complications, often receiving little or no treatment because of their parent’s inability to pay. These complications may include high rates of acute illness including three times as many ear infections, five times more diarrhea and stomach problems. Of this homeless child population 10% reported sexual abused which is three times the rate of other children. An estimated 20% of this population does not attend school, of any kind. They suffer from insomnia and they fear the darkness, crying at night because of the uncertainty of tomorrow. For these unfortunate children a new day is not a new beginning – it’s the continuation of a bad ending.

Homeless children face many unfortunate obstacles which can not be listed in this hub. What is listed are but a few of the many complications associated with child homelessness. For more statistics on the homeless child epidemic, and the long term complications Google “The National Center on Family Homelessness": See a video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSaIMMetVUI&feature=related

What I heard, what I saw, and what I intend to do about it.

My physical fitness routine includes a two mile roundtrip walk after work and a seven mile roundtrip walk on Sunday mornings.

What I heard: On this particular Sunday morning while on a seven mile roundtrip walk I decided to go through Chinatown, a small Asian business community just south of downtown Seattle. I decided to take a shortcut through an alley to avoid a flooded street which had been drenched the night before due to a heavy rain. As I was walking through the alley, I heard the cry of what sounded like an infant child. It was a piercing cry of fear, uncertainty, and hunger. It was the type of cry that would stop a person in their tracks, which I did as I looked in the direction of the cry.

What I Saw: After cautious searching I saw an infant child and her young mother crouched in the fetal position beneath the steps of an abandoned building. They were lying on what appeared to be an old carpet for bedding. The mother looked out at me through the broken steps of the unsafe building with fear and a sense of protection for her infant child, while at the same time attempting to keep the child quiet. I reached out to the young mother but she grabbed her child, covering her as if to protect her from this male stranger. I asked if she needed help but she would not speak. She appeared frightened as the child’s cry became more profound. Sensing the young mothers fear and protection for her young infant I then became very cautious as I did not know the full extent of her situation. As far as I knew she could have been held at gun point which may explain her silence when I reached out. Therefore, I turned and quickly walked away. As I was preparing to dial 911 for assistance I noticed two policemen on bikes and quickly got their attention. I then reported what I saw and directed the policemen to the young mothers’ location. The policemen went to the location and after reassuring the mother, she reluctantly reached out to them. Once the mother was in their custody I left the scene and continued my walk.

What I intend to do about it: I am not sure what I can do about the overall problem of child homelessness but what I intend to do is continue my research on the epidemic in Seattle to find ways of getting productively involved. I am currently working with a non profit agency to determine how I can legally and safely use my home to provide assistance to the families. Volunteer work in this area is nothing new to me. A few years ago I did volunteer work with an agency called Childhaven who sponsored a program to feed the homeless teenagers in Seattle. The program was titled “Street Links”. It was a successful program which supported homeless teenagers from various social and economic backgrounds. Through this program we were able to assist some teens in repairing the relationship with their parents and return home. Some of the teens were run aways while most had been in foster care from birth and still others were raised in homelessness most of their lives and had no place to go. The streets were the only home they knew. While serving the teens I’ve always known that there were homeless families on the streets but I never knew the magnitude of the problem, or the number of infants involved.

The focus of this hub is on child homelessness in America - but it’s not an American problem – it’s a global problem affecting almost every industrialize and not so industrialize country across the globe. It's a universal epidemic affecting us all.

Research this growing epidemic in your city or country and find ways to get involve. The level of your involvement is up to you but at least consider it. The children can sure use the help.

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Comments 21 comments

bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 7 years ago from Sacramento, California

Another thoughtful hub that points out a real and silent problem in our society. Here in Sacramento where I live, hundreds of families live near the River in what has become a "tent city." The local loaves and fishes does not have the resources to feed and house them all. I give what I can when I can but these days it is hard as I am sure it is for lots of folks. One day, perhaps, we can do right by everyone so at least children do not have to sleep in the cold.

Thanks for reminding me of lucky I am.

jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 7 years ago from United States of America Author

Thanks Bgpappa -

Times are really tough for everyone and it's a real challenge taking care of ones own, let alone helping others. The saddest part is that it's become a risk helping others which compounds the problem. We have a tent city in Seattle but the city keep moving them because the wealthy think the tents bring down property value. If they were connected with reality they would see their neighbors in the tents and know that they themselves are just a prayer away.

Single Mama profile image

Single Mama 7 years ago

wow, this is eye-opening. did i read that correctly, 39%/40% are children, so only 1% are adults?

jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 7 years ago from United States of America Author

Single Mama: Yes, however, it varies from state to state. Homeless males are somewhat difficult to count as they move about more freely than homeless females with childrens. Today's economy are pushing families on the streets in record numbers.  The majority of these families are young to middle aged couples with two or more small kids. In most cases its causing the families to break up.  I've also seen statistics where divorce rate increases so the mother can receive state help if she is single and not married.  The ones suffering most are the kids. 

Lee Thacker profile image

Lee Thacker 7 years ago

I like the way your brain thinks, makes me feel alive listening to what your thinking, very cool...Keep it up ...PS Now I Know Why I bookmarked your page ;-) ...Hope you are doing well,

jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 7 years ago from United States of America Author

Lee Thacker - My apologies for the late reply. I am humbled by your kind words of encouragement. Life is really a trip sometimes but I am doing quite well, thanks for asking. I pray that all is well with you.

beenthere 7 years ago

Hey all, I understand where jxb7076 is coming from. I have been there in shelters, sleeping behind buildings. Trust me it is no joke. God truly brought me through this. I must add, it isn't always, you have to have an addiction, or lazy, and even without a job. Sometimes, your income just is not up to the standard of the state in which you reside in. California's economic is high, and so working or not, you can still end up in shelters on outside living in the allies. Las Vegas, is not short stopping nor is any state for that matter. This is a serious epidemic that has plagued the world. And everyone one, who can need to reach out and help someone. Never think this can not happen to you. We not only have veterans, and elderly and children out here moving from alley, street, shelter and dumpster, but well educated people living on these streets. Homeless comes from the greed of others. We can't just blame the addictions, mismanagement etc. etc. on this epidemic. We need to take in consideration, if people were putting the monies back into the proper places, and not embezzeling, robbing the poor, increasing prices to draw blood from a turnip, then there would be no homeless children, the mentally challenge, would not be without a facility to be cared for. We need to come together as a people and help one another so we can prevent a mother with an infant from being out here in these streets, and keep children from being in the system, most of all getting involved, because we just can't keep depending on the government. Somethings we just have to do as a people on our own. What am I trying to do, find a proposal to help put people back in there homes, or a home. So I am trying to work something out. I have taken some people into my apartment as we speak. God knows if I could, I would take them all. It is one thing, to empathize, but to walk in ones shoes, really brings reality to reality. No joke out here. People we just need to get out of ourselves, and make the remainder of our days on this earth better by reaching out to someone else in need.


Denise Brockway

jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 6 years ago from United States of America Author

beenthere - thanks for your insightful comments and the wisdom of your experience. I too was homeless in the late seventies and ans you said it's really no joke. The situation is much worst now than it was in the seventies. This is a very serious problem and its affecting not just the people involved but the moral fabric of the country - whatever country it may be.

rescueachild profile image

rescueachild 6 years ago from San Jose, Ca

I have a guy ( I don't even know his name because he speaks only Spanish) that every time I see him, I try to give him something. Water, food, pizza leftovers from the local pizzahut, chapsticks, whatever ~ just so I can show my love and compassion for him, the way Christ would if he were here.

Since, I am the hands and feet of Jesus, it is my responsibility to try and help those members in my community that can't help themselves. He stands on that corner often enough for the last two years, that I have begun to think that, I kind of know him.

Standing on that corner mind you, is work. It's hot or cold with relentless mean, hateful stares he has to endure everyday. Everyone needs someone to care sometime.

That's just me though.....

jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 6 years ago from United States of America Author

rescueachild - praise God for your service to others. People think to be effective in the ministry to others they have to be a part of a large organization but the reality is that they only have to help one individual. When Jesus was alive He did not heal masses of people at once. He saved individuals, one at a time as the spirit lead Him. His crucifixion however, was the only act He committed which saved everyone at the same time.

yamkela 6 years ago

the neglect or ignorence of people living in the sreets shows that only money can gv you identity, justice and respect within society whch z not cul bcoz we are all equal. This also drives away the sense of humanity which scares me bcoz without it you are just inhuman.bt for us to make a change it starts with you, when an example z set then a wise mynd will follow

yamkela 6 years ago

If the future of kids is fading it means that the world is also fadind coz when we die we will live them behind having no positivity about life, if we dont plough the fruitful crops in their minds, then the unfruitful will plough itself into the youngminds

jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 6 years ago from United States of America Author

yamkela - thanks for stopping by and commenting. I agree that this is a major problem which is highly misunderstood by those who ignore it. Unfortunately we never truly understand until we've experienced it. I experienced homelessness once and its not a pleasant experience.

DJ Odyssey 6 years ago

Happy holidays to everyone, I was looking for links to organizations that helps homeless children, and ways to get the community involved in helping. For many people, they find it hard to comprehend that there are homeless children and infants right in your back alley, in all parts of America. This story was eye catching, just yesterday I spoke with a female who told me she was getting evicted on Sunday- she has 2 girls and a boy on the way. Different baby father, and now place to go, I am trying to contact some shelthers- or I will house them myself. It is just too sad, her father gave up on her, and for her it is a cycle repeating from generation to generation. I feel for her, but more for her girls- I don't want them to repeat the same cycle, so I have to help, and everyone out there- that is breathing have to help. Even if it is just by talking to someone, or giving them hot food to eat, or clothes. Please just help each other. And when it comes to areas with high property values, tents will not bring down the value. These people own morals will bring down their property values.

jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 6 years ago from United States of America Author

DJ Odyssey - thanks for stopping by. I don't think the help is going come in large numbers until the haves' realize that we're all just one paycheck, bad decision, or a recession from being on the streets ourselves. There is still a mentallity in the US which suggests that if you're homeless its because you're lazy or just simply not trying hard enough. The majority of the people on the streets are victims of circumstances beyond their control. We need to recognize this reality and do more to help. It bothers me to see so many empty buildings right next to tent cities.

Brinafr3sh profile image

Brinafr3sh 5 years ago from West Coast, United States


This is a sad but true story. I helped feed the homeless when I was 16 years old, my grandmother cooked all the food. And the rest of our family helped serve the food to the homeless; in Downtown Los Angeles, California, SkidRoe Street. This was in the year of 1988. Great hub-article, thanks.

jovianmadsen 5 years ago

long man u expect me to read this

jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 5 years ago from United States of America Author

jovianmadsen - only if you're compassionate about the subject.

Patty 4 years ago

Could you rewrite this? One has to read the whole picture of the homeless man thing before one even gets to the sad facts! You would have flunked Journalism 101... you have to give it all you got as soon as you get their attention!

jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 4 years ago from United States of America Author

Patty - thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I really appreciate the feedback. Unfortunately this article was not written as a journalistic exercise. Getting to the facts as you suggest would have robbed the audience of a critical opportunity to understand the depth of the problem. The real facts of homelessness are evasive because most people can not see beyond the images which suggests that the majority of the victims are men.

The homeless man scenerio was an effort to dispel the myth of the homeless demographics and open the readers mind to the real problems of homelessness so they may look beneath and beyond the stereotypes and have a better appreciation for the facts.

It's good to hear that I failed journalism 101 because this article was not designed to excite or grab attention but to inform and encourage those with developing, or present interests to get involved by donating their time and efforts towards a solution.

Again, thanks for stopping by and I really do appreciate the feedback.

Barbara 3 years ago

Hi Bob,

Have been working a homeless children's project for 23 years. Do you

have a personal connection to anyone in Las Vegas who might be able to donate filled Easter Baskets?


Barbara Kenig

E Bunny 2013





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