What is homelessness? Most people conjure an image of someone sleeping on a park bench, or pushing their belongings in a cart. But homelessness is a complex issue with subtle variations, and ending it can be just as complex.
Homelessness happens when someone can’t afford housing of their own. Many times, we encounter families who are couch homeless. They may be staying with a friend or relative “ sometimes the family is scattered among various friends and relatives “ but they don’t have a home of their own. These families might not fit the image of homeless family living in a shelter or on the streets but face common challenges of people without homes.
It’s estimated that nearly a third of the workforce is one bad accident, one large medical bill, one missed paycheck away from financial ruin, including losing their homes.
In the State of Oklahoma alone, there are over 26,000 homeless children. Last year, 21% of our students were couch homeless upon enrollment, meaning they slept in motels, cars, on floors, with friends, but did not have a home of their own, while 62% stayed in homeless shelters.
The cycle of homelessness
For most, the cycle of homelessness is triggered by a job loss or unexpected bills that exceed their income. Because many aid programs require a home address, a family living with homelessness can face challenges in getting the assistance they need to get back on their feet.
More than a third of the homeless population is employed, but these jobs tend to be low-wage and do not meet the needs of the family.
Children raised in homelessness have reduced literacy and vocabularies. These children are also less likely to have well-developed motor skills, and nearly half are unable to pass state-mandated testing at their grade level. Chronic stress and anxiety caused by poverty has also been linked to lower academic performance.
These academic difficulties lead to higher dropout rates, limiting future opportunities. This contributes to multi-generational cycles of poverty.
Breaking the cycle
The cycle of poverty and homelessness can be broken. Reducing the barriers to an education, providing family support for stable environment, and then delivering that education where the student is can lead to positive academic outcomes and pave the way for success later in life.