Huge Mistake: Ignoring the Littles

Homelessness continues unabated unless we change our ways.

Diane Nilan
3 min readSep 20, 2023

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Yes, this is what a homeless baby looks like. Photo Diane Nilan

Maybe because they’re little.

Despite the obvious enlightened effort in the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) proposed research agenda for informing policies, programs and practices to prevent and end homelessness, they are missing a major piece — babies and toddlers.

As irrelevant as research agendas may seem in the scheme of things, especially if you’re a person experiencing homelessness, research is vital for setting policy directions and priorities.

With USICH’s academic focus, one might rightly wonder: where does education fit in our efforts to address homelessness? The role of public schools in addressing homelessness in every community, required by law, also appears to be overlooked in this proposed research agenda.

These significant omissions lie at the heart of our nation’s failed response to homelessness.

the cycle of homelessness

Ask the adults on the streets about their early years and you’ll likely hear horribly sad tales of their childhood homelessness (once they understand that being doubled up and bouncing around from pillar to post is homelessness).

The devastating impact of early childhood trauma on a person’s development is now better understood by researchers, but evidently that knowledge has not seeped into our nation’s approach to homelessness.

Schools are beginning to ramp up their outreach to families and unaccompanied youth/parents about younger family members. This is a major improvement, but it is limited since an alarming number of schools fail to adequately identify and serve students experiencing homelessness.

Recognizing that systems will always be imperfect is no excuse to hold back with the USICH approach to preventing and ending homelessness.

The longer we ignore babies, toddlers, children and youth, the longer we’ll have a feeder system to street homelessness. I’ve worked in this field for over 35 years and can attest to the devastating impact homeless childhoods have on families. (www.hearus.us)

Yes, another little one experiencing homelessness, with his bear.
Yes, another little one experiencing homelessness, with his bear. Photo Diane Nilan

What Can Be Done?

How can we make a case for the significant resources needed to substantially address homelessness in the United States?

  • We need to present a more accurate assessment of how many people have lost housing due to hardships. HUD needs to have a more comprehensive definition of homelessness to include the millions of families and youth doubled up, in motels, or otherwise outside of the very limited definition of homelessness HUD currently uses.
  • Enlighten lawmakers. Congress is blissfully in the dark when it comes to the extent of homelessness. USICH must stop being complicit in perpetuating that ignorance.
  • Expand the scope and focus of USICH research. This will be an important first step in making that change. Comments on the USICH research agenda accepted until Sept. 22, 2023.
  • Include babies/toddlers and their families as a focus.
  • Acknowledge the importance of education in mitigating the impact of homelessness.

For all the babies and toddlers without a place to call home, this post is for you!

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Diane Nilan

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 18 yrs. on US backroads. hearus.us