Topic updated: August 2012

Homeless Health Care

Among industrialized nations, the United States has the largest number of homeless women and children. Not since the Great Depression have so many families been without homes. The statistics below are the best estimates of the extent of homelessness, but it is important to note that they are undercounts.

• Homeless families comprise roughly 1/3 of the total homeless population.

• Approximately 1.5 million children will experience homelessness over the course of a year. In any given day, researchers estimate that more than 200,000 children have no place to live.

• People counted in the single adult homeless population (about 2.3-3.5 million annually) are also part of families:

• Among all homeless women, 60% have children under age 18, but only 65% of them live with at least one of these children.

• Among all homeless men, 41% have children under age 18, but only 7%
live with at least one of their own children.

Health

Children experiencing homelessness:

  • Are sick four times more often than other children.  They have:

    • Four times as many respiratory infections.

    • Twice as many ear infections.

    • Five times more gastrointestinal problems.

    • Children living below the poverty line are almost twice as likely to have asthma as those living above. One in nine homeless children are reported to have asthma related health conditions.

    • In one study, 69% of asthmatic children entering the New York City shelter system had visited the emergency room at least once in the past year for asthma treatment.

    • They go hungry at twice the rate of other children.
    • Nutritional deficiencies in homeless children often lead to high rates of overweight and obesity.

Experiences of violence

Violence plays a significant role in the lives of children.

  • By age twelve, 83% of homeless children had been exposed to at least one serious violent event.
  • Almost 25% have witnessed acts of violence within their families.
  • 15% have seen their father hit their mother.
  • 11% have seen their mother abused by a male partner.
  • Children who witness violence are more likely than those who have not to exhibit frequent aggressive and antisocial behavior, increased fearfulness, higher levels of depression and anxiety, and have a greater acceptance of violence as a means of resolving conflict.

Mental health issues

  • Children experiencing homelessness have three times the rate of emotional and behavioral problems compared to non-homeless children.

    Among young homeless children:
    • One out of six have emotional disturbances. This is twice the rate of other children.

    • 16% of homeless preschoolers have behavior problems including severe aggression and hostility.

    Among school-age homeless children:
    • 47% have problems such as anxiety, depression, and withdrawal, compared to 18% of other school-age children

    • 36% manifest delinquent or aggressive behavior, compared to 17% of other school-age children.

Developmental milestones and academic performance

• Children experiencing homelessness are four times more likely to show delayed development. They also have twice the rate of learning disabilities as non-homeless children.

• Thanks to the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act, children experiencing homelessness have a greater chance of achieving educational stability
• 85% of homeless children and youth regularly attend school.

However, homeless children still experience significant educational disruption:
• Although 42% of children and youth experiencing homelessness are below the age of five, they are significantly underrepresented in pre-school programs.

• Of homeless elementary students, only 21.5% are proficient in math and 24.4% in reading. It is even worse among high school students, where 11.4% are proficient in math and 14.6% in reading.

Poor students are twice as likely as non-poor students to have to repeat a grade, be expelled, get suspended from school, or drop out of high school.

Read the complete fact sheet from the National Center on Family Homelessness.

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