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How America Became a Country That Lets Little Kids Go Homeless

Family homelessness essentially did not exist until the 1980s. And the financial crisis has made the problem massively worse.
 
 
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It's a searing hot Sunday in the Bronx, and young women and couples with small children sweatily make their way up the ramp to the  PATH building, New York City's shiny new intake center, where homeless families with children must go to get placed in shelters. That's the hope at least. A couple that went in right around the time I showed up exits the building about half an hour later, and the man is pissed; it doesn't look like they had any luck today. Everyone looks anxious as they walk up the ramp; clearly this is a situation where there had better be a Plan B if getting themselves and their kids into a shelter is not in the cards.

A young couple with the cutest twin toddlers I've ever seen walks up and sits on the curb. I point this out to their parents and for a second they beam, but then they go back to looking very worried. This is their 3rd trip to PATH this week. The first two times they were turned away, when their caseworker s decided they should stay with Amanda's mom instead. Her mom disagreed. Now, the couple has come prepared, bearing a letter in which her mom assures the Department of Homeless Services just how unwelcome her daughter and grandchildren are. "Hopefully this time it'll work, and we'll have a place to stay," says Amanda, 18, who took her first trip to PATH at 17, when her mother kicked her out of the house for the first time. "We're hoping to get placed in Brooklyn, where I'm from, but even the Bronx would be fine, as long as we have a place."

The twins are crying the whole time. The man picks up one kid and their heavy luggage flips the stroller on its back, upending the other twin, who starts screaming as the dad frantically tries to right the fallen stroller; no one who comes here is having a very good day.  It's tough with the twins inside the building too, because they can't bring in food or water, according to Amanda. "We have to pour out our water bottles before we go inside." 

To keep out more dangerous things, the building has a full-on security apparatus with metal detectors in the entry way and harried security guards rushing families through. Hanging from each of their belts is an extendable baton, in case any trouble gets past the metal detectors. Outside, a new family walks up the ramp every five to 10 minutes. One woman's baby is only a week and a half old; she's draped a piece of cloth over his stroller to protect him from the heat.

Candace, 26, is heavily pregnant -- she's going to have a baby girl at the end of July. She's anxious to make her appointment because she really needs a place to stay, but before she goes she politely offers that the new PATH building is nicer than when she first came here at 17.

"Everything's clean, everyone is polite," she says softly, then scrunches up her face. "In the old one there was feces, regurgitations, and flies everywhere."

***

After hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit in 2005, advocates for the homeless were horrified to find that the storms had left one in 50 American kids without a home, a record high, according to a report by the  National Center for Family Homelessness. But only a few years later the financial crisis outperformed nature in casting catastrophe on poor Americans. After record foreclosures, layoffs and budget cuts that hit poor families the hardest, America is a country where one out of 45 kids doesn't have a home. That totals 1.6 million children in 2010 without a permanent place to live, an increase of 448,000 in just three years. Forty percent of the kids are under 6.

 
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