invisible homeless kids

Hard to imagine that in this country way over 3 MILLION kids are without homes. H-O-M-E-L-E-S-S Kids. I don't get it. Are we willing to discard these kids? Not me. So this blog will relentlessly focus on this issue, hoping to light a spark to fuel a compassion epidemic. Chime in, argue, but do something....

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Shocking! Homeless Children and Youth--100% Increase

If you wait long enough and do nothing, problems usually don’t go away. Such is the case illustrated by the astounding increase of homelessness among children and youth in this country. The latest numbers just released show a jaw-dropping 100% increase of students identified as homeless since I’ve been on the road—10 years ago.
US Department of Education numbers indicate 1,360,747 students identified experienced homelessness in the 2013-14 school year, 8% more than the previous year. 
I’m almost too numb to be shocked. Almost. 

To be clear, the 1.36 million number does not include younger/older siblings or parents. And it only represents those students identified as homeless under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act’s Education for Homeless Children and Youth program, with specific qualifiers. I suspect that the number would actually double if we counted thoroughly.

As part of my work with my nonprofit organization HEAR US Inc., I spent several weeks this year filming in beleaguered Kansas, including a week at Camp IBA (Imagine. Believe. Achieve.), an astounding creation of the Wichita Public School District 259’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Education program. I can’t get these young faces out of my head or heart. 

I sat in on a campfire-style conversation of 10-12-year old girls, gathered in a circle on the floor of their camp/classroom. One girl shared her dismay of not knowing where her family would be sleeping night-to-night. Another talked about how oppressively crowded it was in their motel room. Another revealed her fear of violence if her mother’s ex-boyfriend would return. These matter-of-fact topics spun around as if these girls were adults chatting about a popular soap opera. 

Another girl told me what she liked most about the camp: she could “depend” on people, certainly the teachers and volunteers, but also her campmates. I suspect she knows about those she can’t depend on.  
Real kids. Real feelings. Real homelessness.

We apparently have decided that certain groups of homeless persons must be expendable. Kids have drawn the short straw, that, despite what we know would work for many families.

Congress is still pondering whether to let homeless families and youth qualify for federal assistance to escape homelessness. Of course, if they do, Congress might need to do something about the dire lack of affordable housing in communities from coast to coast. Legislation is dangling in the Capitol that might improve this appalling neglect, the Homeless Children and Youth Act, but though I won’t bet my lunch money that they’ll get around to passing this bipartisan, bicameral legislation any time soon, we still need to be at the table. 

As one of a handful of advocates who have been fighting for the rights of homeless families and youth for decades, I continue to be astounded at how few people, including elected officials, grasp that we even have millions of kids and families without homes, much less realize the dire conditions they face. By our collective neglect, we write off this population until they become adults on the streets. 

Something can be done. Although this seems like a long-shot, stranger things have happened in Congress. You and all those in your network can contact your congressional delegation—quickly and painlessly—by going to  and clicking on the TAKE ACTION link. By entering your zip code, your representatives’ info will pop up. You can customize the letter or send it as is. 

The venerable Senator Paul Simon (D, IL, deceased) once told me that until elected officials heard from their constituents that homelessness was an issue, nothing would be done. It seems like a simple formula—contact your legislator, make your wishes known, they respond. (Since big money isn't available for this issue, we'll have to do the Paul Simon method.)

With the number of homeless students increasing each year, it seems like more and more people should be aware of this crisis, maybe even knowing someone who fell into homelessness. The best motivation we have is think of ourselves in the place of those in homeless situations. 

What would we want to have happen if those kids sitting in the circle discussing their homelessness were our kids?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Ignoring Homeless Families and Youth: They Don't Disappear

Lost housing, doubled up, staying with others.

For thousands of students in Kansas, with and without parents, who have nowhere to go, doubled up means instability, tensions, and worse….

High mobility, poverty, trauma, family crises, coupled with the lack of safe and affordable housing options combine to create an onslaught of families and youth with nowhere to go. Over 70% of the more than 10,000 KS students identified as homeless are doubled up, temporarily staying in the housing of others. 

Many go unidentified…but HEAR US Inc. invites them to tell their stories in these short video clips.

Doubled up families and youth often are exposed to violence and abuse with no escape. Reliant on others for housing, often because shelters are overcrowded, nonexistent or not appropriate for many reasons, they desperately turn to anyone willing to take them in.

Often families or young persons on their own don’t connect their hardships with the official status of “homeless” and they don’t share details about their nomadic conditions. “Hard times” and “couch surfing,” euphemisms for homelessness, often mask the shame and turmoil they experience.

Fragile arrangements to stay with others often include the “walking on egg shells” mindset, a reliable predictor of the “worn out welcome mat” syndrome.

Also hidden is the instability and danger they face. Unscrupulous hosts—whether family, friends or acquaintances—may take advantage of the desperate plight of their lodgers. Sex abuse, human trafficking and prostitution can be the price for a place to stay or cause an ill-conceived option to escape the predator-host.

Once trapped in the homelessness vortex, it becomes almost impossible to escape. Not officially deemed “homeless,” a bureaucratic barricade erected by HUD, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, they don’t qualify for assistance. Slashed human service budgets means little help is available.

Through the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Act, tremendous support for students experiencing homelessness may be available in the form of school supplies, coats, backpacks, shoes, food and toiletries to meet immediate needs. Homeless liaisons, required in each district, may also connect students with community resources, tutoring, and extracurricular activities.

Identifying students experiencing hidden homelessness and determining their needs is crucial to ensure academic success.  Alert school personnel may pick up clues of housing instability, perhaps clarifying underlying reasons for a student’s struggles.

Homelessness. Yes, that term bears plenty of negative stigmas, but it comes in many shapes. Identifying doubled up students allows for barriers to academic success to dissolve, giving them the opportunity to focus on the only stability they know—school routines.  
To join the effort to get the bipartisan Homeless Children and Youth Act passed, go to and TAKE ACTION.