Do We Just Dispose of Kids?

Struggles of Youth Make or Break Them. 3 Ways We Can Help.

Justice for children. Photo Diane Nilan

I suppose we should be encouraged that a bipartisan resolution to call attention to youth homelessness passed and got a smidge of media attention. And Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV, took the lead on this action. West Virginia has been in the news for discovering that they have more than 10,000 students experiencing homelessness. Finally!

Manchin recently touted his support for homeless kids, saying
“Every child should have somewhere safe in their life where harm cannot enter, and they are protected.”

It’s hard for me to applaud these insipid statements when the reality that kids I know, and millions I don’t know, struggle with various aspects of homelessness, often on their own. Some escape relatively unscathed. Some, including my loved ones, have died because of the trauma they’ve experienced on the streets. Most will suffer long-term effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences, ACE.

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Resolutions, nice on the surface, don’t do diddly-squat for them. I thereby offer the following example herein:

The Senate…

…recognizes November 2019 as ‘‘National Homeless Children and Youth Awareness Month’’; and

(4) encourages those businesses, organizations, educators, and volunteers to continue to intensify their efforts to address homelessness among children and youth during November 2019. (Senate Resolution 423)

OK, Joe, you and your colleagues tried, but really, homelessness is tough stuff, especially for kids. And well-wishes and do-gooders aren’t going to make it go away for the more than 6 million babies, toddlers, children, youth and young adults who lack a stable place to sleep. Let’s consider 3 aspects you missed.

3 challenges your resolution fails to address:

1. Young Moms, Pregnant or With Young Children

An expert in the issue of young children experiencing homelessness, Anne Giordano was interviewed by SchoolHouse Connection. She pointed out the double-whammy for homeless youth — those who are both homeless and pregnant/parenting:

Pregnancy and parenting while homeless can be an even greater challenge for youth. A recent study by Chapin Hall found that unmarried parenting youth have a 200% higher risk of becoming homeless, and with that comes an increased risk for maternal and perinatal depression, and a host of other pervasive concerns.


The instability of homelessness interferes with the natural process of creating a space in their lives and homes for their newborn. It severely limits their ability to experience a positive prenatal period of anticipation needed to promote optimal health and development for both the mother and the baby, such as obtaining adequate prenatal care and “nesting,” or mentally and physically preparing for parenthood, the birth experience, and caring for their newborn child.

The Pew Stateline article also pointed out a chilling statistic. “…a 2018 report by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago found that 44% of young women experiencing homelessness were either pregnant or parenting.”

In her SchoolHouse Connection interview, Giordano offers suggestions, including this:

…in the interim we need to establish and support more family-friendly, supportive shelter and transitional homes for young, parenting families. These shelters and homes should have appropriate environments for bonding and breastfeeding, access to ongoing physical and mental health services, training on recognizing the signs of and routinely screening for perinatal mood disorders, and creating opportunities for fathers to be part of their babies’ lives. Identifying and addressing homelessness during this vulnerable period for parents and babies is critical.

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Baby and siblings stuck in a motel with their young mother. Photo Diane Nilan

2. Youth Aging-Out of Foster Care Face Tremendous Risk of Adult Homelessness. One Solution…

Foster care unfortunately often ends up being the feeder system for adult homelessness. When kids are ill-prepared for adulthood, getting tossed out of their foster home at age 18 (the typical age for the end of foster care), they hit a buzz saw of reality which often includes legal problems, and paves the way for life as a homeless adult unless help is available.

In Broward County, FL, a pilot project focuses on the legal issues. Targeting foster care youth as they get ready to head out on their own, this project aims to head off potential problems common for young people.

HOPE Court targets youth ages 17 plus, who will be graduating from the foster care system and entering into society independently as young adults. This pilot project offers an enhancement to the current dependency system process for older teens so that the youth’s relationship with social workers, service providers and the legal system will be established through restorative practices and community building, rather than through an adversarial manner. (YouthToday, 11/22/19)

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Babies and shelters. Photo Diane Nilan

3. How We Define Homelessness Matters. It Needs Fixing.

Most comfortably-housed legislators and citizens don’t realize that, by federal definition, millions of kids experiencing homelessness don’t count. They are ineligible for help to escape homelessness because HUD doesn’t consider them homeless. It’s an arcane issue for most, but it’s at the heart of how our nation approaches homelessness.

I’ve relentlessly written about this issue since the bill to align HUD’s definition with the U.S. Department of Education’s more inclusive definition was introduced way back in 2007. Grassroots lobbying for the Homeless Children and Youth Act, which would fix this discrepancy, has ramped up. Barbara Duffield, CEO of SchoolHouse Connection, was interviewed for a Pew Stateline article .

“Schools can help homeless families only so much, she said, and can’t give them housing assistance or shelter.

‘It’s so confusing for families to call [emergency hotlines] and be told they’re not homeless’ if they’re couch surfing or staying in a motel, Duffield said. ‘And they know they’re homeless. But you can’t even get assessed for help if you don’t meet HUD’s definition.’”

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So, in this month of paying attention to homelessness, if you feel even a modicum of sadness about homeless kids and families in our country, do one thing. It takes about 30 seconds and doesn’t require money.

Urge your legislator to co-sponsor the Homeless Children and Youth Act. You can read all about it on this website,, which also gives you the TAKE ACTION link.

Legislators who signed onto the November Homeless Children and Youth Awareness proclamation, including Senator Manchin, can be counted on to support this bill when it comes up for a vote, right?

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 15 yrs. on US backroads.

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