New Report Documents Rise in Number of Homeless Children

Nov 7, 2012 | Newsroom

Issued by the Children and Families Commission of Orange County, Report
Recommends Steps to Help as County Fights to End Homelessness in 10 Years

Irvine, Calif., Nov. 7, 2012 — The number of Orange County children and their families who land on the streets or in temporary homeless shelters continues to rise – and persistent unemployment, lack of affordable housing and poverty are the driving forces behind the sobering spike, according to a report issued today by the Children and Families Commission of Orange County.

The report, “Homeless Children Ages 5 and Younger in Orange County,” showed a 20 percent increase in homeless children in fiscal year 2011/2012 over the prior year.  On any given night in 2011, 444 children were homeless, according to the report, which also found that the typical homeless family was a single mother in her late 20s with two children, one or both usually under age 6.

“Our mission is to reach out to and improve the lives of the most vulnerable among us – children 5 and younger,” said Sandra Barry, chair of the Children and Families Commission of Orange County.  “Streets, cars and shelters are no place for Orange County’s children.  Homelessness is extraordinarily traumatic on young children, and the findings of this new report underscore the urgent need to expand the county’s Emergency Shelter programs as part of the Commission’s commitment to work with our community partners to end homelessness within the next 10 years.”

The report contained several long-range recommendations and noted the strides the Commission – working closely with the large network of community organizations and agencies it helps fund – is making on behalf of homeless children and their families.  For example, in fiscal year 2011/2012:

64,348 shelter bed nights were provided to 780 young children

105,411 shelter bed nights were provided to 1,355 family members

106 children under age 6 were screened for vision, hearing, height, weight, health and developmental milestones

Key Recommendations

The report made the following key recommendations as part of the Commission’s comprehensive effort to end homelessness in Orange County:

Continue to play a leading role in the Commission to End Homelessness. This countywide body comprises a 17-member advisory committee whose members are overseeing comprehensive strategies to eliminate homelessness in Orange County over the next 10 years.  The report stressed that the continued participation of the Children and Families Commission is crucial to ensuring a well-coordinated and collaborative effort among the various agencies and resources that have been aligned to serve the county’s homeless population.

Strengthen homeless data reporting and analysis.  The report recommends that the Commission work to streamline the way data on homelessness and those who receive services is collected and reported by numerous county agencies.  Streamlining the processes would eliminate redundancies and help the collective agencies adopt practices that increase efficiencies.

Expand the county’s system of emergency shelters.  The Commission currently funds two Emergency Shelter programs.  As the Commission and its partners work to end homelessness, in the meantime they also should focus on expanding the number of shelter beds available to children and their families, to ensure they have safe shelter as they work to regain self-sufficiency.

‘Many Paths to Homelessness’

The report noted that, while the typical homeless family is a young mother with two children, “there are many paths to homelessness” and homelessness “affects people of all ethnicities but occurs disproportionately among people of color, especially African American/Blacks,” who represented 11 percent of Orange County’s homeless population yet just 1.5 percent of the county’s total population.  The report also stated that, “Persistent unemployment appears to be driving homelessness rates more than foreclosures or evictions.”

Homelessness exacts staggering emotional and physical tolls on society’s youngest members, the report emphasized.  For example, children who experience homelessness:

Are sick four times as often and experience acute and chronic health problems at much higher rates as other children

Repeat a grade at two times the rate of other children

Experience twice the rate of learning disabilities as children who are not homeless

Suffer from anxiety, depression, withdrawal and aggression at three times the rate of their non-homeless peers

The report was compiled for the Commission using data collected by the Orange County Homeless Management Information System (HMIS); the Social Services Agency of Orange County, which gathers caseload data on families who seek assistance from CalWORKs; and the county’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

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