It’s important as people head into the Thanksgiving Day holiday this week and the Christmas shopping season that follows to remember folks who are less fortunate.
’Tis the season.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported this month that from its January count, there are more than half a million people in this so-called land of plenty who are homeless on any given night. About 69 percent of them are in a residential program for homeless people; 31 percent are in unsheltered locations on the street.
Of the homeless people, 68 percent or 383,948 were age 25 and older. HUD reports that 47,725 were veterans; 4,338 of those veterans were women.
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As high as the total numbers are of people who are homeless in the United States, that part of the population has dropped by 2 percent since 2014.
But the face of homelessness isn’t totally what people think — the unkempt guy “flying a sign” made of cardboard at intersections off highways, seeking coins to help him get through the hard times of homelessness. The count found that of the 564,708 homeless people, 206,286 were in families with children, making up 36 percent of all homeless people.
Also, nearly a quarter of the nation’s homeless, or 127,787 are children under the age of 18. Although homeless, those children are still required to go to school.
The U.S. Department of Education earlier this year reported a much higher number of homeless children. It found that nationwide there were a record-breaking 1.3 million homeless children and youths attending public schools in 2013-2014 in the U.S. Missouri schools had 29,784 homeless students in 2013-2014 school year, an increase of 187 percent from the last pre-Great Recession year of 2006-2007.
Homeless families and youth are less likely than single adults to stay on the street and in other outdoor locations such as temporarily in motels. Often they “couch-surf” at the homes of friends or family who will take them in.
They then are not counted by HUD but do show up in public schools’ homeless count. HUD notes in a written statement that the Department of Education’s data are “a more accurate assessment of trends in family and youth homelessness.”
Of the homeless students, 1.1 million are eligible for educational assistance through local schools but not HUD homeless services, including shelter, short-term housing and assistance to get permanent housing, First Focus Campaign for Children notes.
First Focus, a nonprofit that advocates for children and families, reports that homelessness in that population is a big concern because homeless children are more likely to be diagnosed with learning disabilities, transfer among schools more often, miss valuable class time and have the lowest standardized test scores. Unaccompanied homeless children also are more likely to suffer physical and sexual abuse, land in places where adults abuse drugs and alcohol, and fall victim to sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
Correcting the problem takes more awareness and more help for families with children. They need permanent, safe, affordable housing, and legislation providing such could help.
More affordable, safe, permanent housing would aid veterans and other adults who are homeless. They also need better public transportation options, job training and better physical and mental health services.
Offering help to neighbors in need this holiday season is good, but it should also be a year-round thing.