The following article was written by Hannah Belayachi, Content Creator for Public Relations, using data from the following sources: the National Center for Children in Poverty, Womenaid International, and Deutsche Welle.
Imagine yourself as a kid, about the age of 12, walking the streets of Washington, D.C. The city looks beautiful, buildings lighting up the sky, taking the place of the sun as it goes down for the day. You’re paying close attention to what’s in between the buildings as well: quiet alleyways, dead ends in between the residential and commercial parts of the city, and what kind of people are hanging around those areas. The weather is a bit chilly, so you’re looking for little nooks in these alleyways where the wind can’t quiet reach. Once you find one that you feel particularly safe in, you lie down in the corner, desperately trying to cover up most of your body with an old winter coat that you’ve outgrown, and close your eyes, falling asleep, but trying your best to stay at least somewhat conscious in case the need to move was necessary.
You’ve just stepped into the shoes of a homeless child living in the city, an occurrence that happens more often than we think.
Children make up about a third of the world’s population, and yet globally, there are around 100 million homeless children living on the streets. Depending on the country, child homelessness can be caused by many factors, such as general family homelessness from economic difficulties, domestic violence, or violent national conflict (which affects about 28% of the homeless children population).
The McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act defines homeless children and youths as those who do not have a stable, consistent place to stay at night. Child homelessness is generally separated into two groups: children who are experiencing family homelessness and those identified as unaccompanied youth. If a child is unaccompanied, it is usually due to one of three reasons:
- They are runaways, that is, leaving overnight without the parent/guardian’s permission.
- They are “throwaways”: Parents encourage their children to leave the home or lock them out of the home.
- They are independent youth that simply don’t have a home to return to due to irreconcilable family issues or lost contact with their families.
Children don’t have a lot of say when it comes to what happens to them, especially if their cause of homelessness is due to their parents’ unaffordability of homes or poverty. However, if a child experiences homelessness, they are at a greater risk of suffering from malnutrition and mental health issues related to violence or trauma, a set back in education, and an increased chance of becoming a juvenile delinquent. Exposure to such experiences may instill a sense of hopelessness in the child, as they grow up thinking they are unable to get themselves out of a hole that someone else had put them in. Furthermore, adults who have been homeless as children are more likely to be involved in criminal activities.
Despite the hardships, a small opportunity of education available to homeless youth would change their lives for the better. Absenteeism and school mobility are among the major mechanisms that impact school success for children living in homeless families and for unaccompanied youth. Providing easy access to educational facilities for unaccompanied youth can be a small first step that carries them for the rest of their lives, allowing them to build a ladder of opportunity out of nothing to climb out of their unfortunate state. Not only that, but it is important to state that these children are not their homelessness, and that them having gone through such a hardship does not plot out the rest of their lives.