How Many Children and Families Experience Homelessness?

Adults and children in families make up about 35 percent of the homeless population.

On a single night in January 2017:

An estimated 184,661 people in families — or 57,971 family households — were identified as homeless.
Almost 17,000 (16,938) people in families were living on the street, in a car, or in another place not meant for human habitation.
Over the course of 2016, roughly half a million people in families stayed at a homeless shelter or transitional housing program — 292,166 were children, and 144,991 were under the age of six.

Families experiencing homelessness are similar to other families that are also poor, but who have a home to live in. Both may struggle with incomes that are far less than they need to pay for housing. In fact, it is often some jolt to this precarious situation – a lost job or work hours, conflict with family members they are staying with, an unanticipated bill or violence within the home – that leads families to seek help from homeless service programs. Homeless families are usually headed by a single woman with limited education, are typically young, and have young children.

Homelessness can have a tremendous impact on children – their education, health, sense of safety, and overall development. Fortunately, researchers find that children are also highly resilient and differences between children who have experienced homelessness and low-income children who have not typically diminish in the years following a homeless episode.

When compared to low-income and homeless families, children experiencing homelessness have been shown to:

Have higher levels of emotional and behavioral problems;
Have increased risk of serious health problems;
Are more likely to experience separations from their families; and
Experience more school mobility, repeat a grade, be expelled or drop out of school, and have lower academic performance.

Housing is the solution to homelessness for low-income families. Most families would benefit from assistance to help them rapidly reconnect to permanent housing. Rapid re-housing provides help with housing search, financial assistance, and case management services to help families quickly transition out of shelter and back into housing of their own. A small subset of families may require more intensive or long-term support, through the provision of transitional housing, permanent rental assistance, or permanent supportive housing to escape homelessness. Families can also benefit from connection to other supports designed to strengthen and improve their lives, such as child care, employment assistance, early childhood services, income support, or mental health counseling.

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