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The Blind Side of the economic crisis — one million homeless school-aged kids

The rise in homelessness among school-aged children is the underside of our current financial crisis

At least 500,000 black school-aged children are currently homeless.
Many of you may have seen The Blind Side where a benevolent Sandra Bullock takes a homeless black kid into her home. He’s a big boy and with a little TLC, he is transformed into a professional football player. Well that story, though it sounds pretty fantastical, is actually based on real people and events. Unfortunately, that Hollywood ending bears no similarity at all to the struggles an estimated one million homeless school children currently face in the U.S. To understand the magnitude of that number, think about this, there are only 40 million African Americans in the U.S. And when you drill down the numbers of those homeless kids, nearly half of them are black, roughly 47 percent. So that means at least 500,000 black school-aged children are currently homeless.

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The rise in homelessness among school-aged children is the underside of our current financial crisis. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, the number of students identified as homeless by public school districts rose more than 40 percent during the 2006/2007 and 2008/2009 school years to 956,914. And this year, with steady and unprecedented increases in foreclosures, 10 percent unemployment and roughly twice that in the most economically vulnerable communities, i.e. black communities, the projections actually look much worse. Out of all the schools reporting, the Department of Education reported 70 percent of all schools saw an increase in homeless students since 2007/2008. About 39 percent of schools are already reporting an increase in homelessness this for this school year. In Texas, the number of homeless students increased 139 percent. Iowa saw an increase of 136 percent. New Mexico saw an increase of 91 percent; Kansas, 88 percent; New Jersey, 84 percent; New York and South Dakota, 73 percent; and Georgia, 72 percent. “They are easily overlooked. It's rare to see a child sleeping on a park bench, so it's easy to forget that these children and their families exist,” said Ellen Bassuk, president of the National Center on Family Homelessness on Delawareonline.com. "The families are relatively invisible. So it's not in the public's consciousness." Sometimes they sleep on the sofas of extended family members. Sometimes, they go from night to night in various cheap motels. Sometimes they end up in a network of homeless shelters, sleeping on pull out cots in a large auditorium. They often are forced to attend school underfed. Sometimes, they are forced to wear the same clothes day in and day out. It’s not exactly the kind of environment that encourages academic success. In fact, if it does anything, it tells a child there is no use, that they should just give in and give up. In addition, these kids are four times more likely to be sick than other children. They are times more likely to have respiratory infections. They are twice as likely to have ear infections, five times more likely to have gastrointestinal problems and more four times more likely to have asthma. And they are three times more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems, according to the National Center of Family Homelessness.

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But the question I have is why are they so easily ignored in the debate on cutting safety net programs? Why are they never discussed when Congress talks about cutting funds from the food stamps programs and scaling back entitlement programs? In this country the sins of the parents -- their inability to support and feed their children -- are undoubtedly visited on the children. Children, who are too young legally to work. Children who have done nothing to deserve the poverty in which they suffer. In this country, it would seem we would take at least some time to consider them when we talk about moving the country forward. After all, they are the future. Right? Read the story.
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