Homelessness and street life
Homelessness and street life have extremely detrimental effects on children. Their unstable lifestyles, lack of medical care and inadequate living conditions increase young people’s susceptibility to chronic illnesses such as respiratory or ear infections, gastrointestinal disorders, and sexually-transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Homeless children lack security, protection, basic needs of life, and continues to face a deep-rooted negative stigma about homelessness. Abuse such as anxiety, denial, self‑hypnosis, disassociation and self‑mutilation are common amongst them.
Unstable and unsafe housing conditions have been found to increase children’s exposure to violence, neglect, and social isolation. Multiple studies have found that homelessness is associated with a lack of attention to basic needs, extreme poverty, substance use, mental health issues, and high levels of parental emotional stress. Homeless children are also more likely than their peers to have moderate, severe, and chronic health problems, and less access to medical and dental care. For these reasons, families that experience homelessness should be given the opportunity to interact with the child welfare system to be properly taken care of.
For younger children, being homeless can be especially harmful, as disparities in health and development begin early. The first five years of a child’s life are the most formative for the brain and the development of vision, hearing, language, and cognitive functions that lay the foundation for the child’s future learning, behavior, mental and physical health. Some studies show that by age 2, toddlers in low-income communities are four times more likely to have a “cluster” of health and developmental concerns than their more affluent peers. Therefore, when children experience the unsafe and unstable conditions associated with homelessness during these foundational years, they are more likely to experience long-lasting negative effects, including developmental delays and poor educational outcomes.
It is pertinent to know that children have the right to live in safety and dignity in a protective and nurturing environment, both at home and in the community. This can only be possible by creating awareness of their rights, especially their right to protection against abuse, putting in place laws to punish those who abuse and exploit homeless children and taking appropriate action to strengthen accountability on the part of government and non-government agencies and the civil society.
WHAT TO DO
- The first thing is to identify the problem or need. Some agencies are taking steps to ensure that families are screened for homelessness and housing instability as early as possible.
- Short-term support with locating and securing housing, including financial support with security deposits, rent, and utilities.
- Time-limited housing solutions, such as emergency shelters and transitional housing.
- Permanent housing options, such as public housing, which provides housing subsidies for families receiving services from the child welfare system.
- Time-limited support to maintain housing, including financial support to prevent evictions.