December 2014. This is the time of year when newspapers and television programs pay attention to homelessness again. Unfortunately, homelessness doesn’t begin at Thanksgiving and end at New Years. For all too many men, women, children, and youth, homelessness is a painful, traumatic daily reality. America’s Youngest Outcasts, a state report card on child homelessness from the National Center on Family Homelessness, recently reported that 2.5 million children in America experienced homelessness over the past year. That shocking number, 2.5 million, means that 1 out of every 30 American children have been homeless in the last year. 2.5 million is roughly the size of the greater Kansas City metro area, or the population of Birmingham, Cleveland, Portland, and Albuquerque…combined. Imagine that: a city of 2.5 million people filled with children experiencing homelessness. It is hard to comprehend.
Homelessness is devastating. First, it is a painful, often terrifying, traumatic experience for people who become homeless and for those who love them. Second, homelessness is an overwhelming social problem—one that weakens us as a nation and lays bare the underlying injustices that erode our country’s foundation. Homelessness does not represent a type of person or a set of bad decisions by an individual. Instead, it reflects the crossroads of all that is broken in our society: poverty; lack of affordable housing; unemployment; jobs that don’t pay livable wages; poor health care access; inadequate services for mental health, substance use, and trauma; an educational system that allows too many young people to slip through the cracks; fragmented families and dangerous neighborhoods; violence and victimization; racism; and social exclusion.