When we think of homelessness, we usually imagine shelters or living on the street. Yet, homelessness among children and families is much more than living in non-habitable environments. The federal McKinney-Vento Act and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have tried to capture what homelessness really means and expand the definition to include families or children fleeing domestic violence situations; families or children living with relatives or friends as temporary housing; families that will lose housing due to eviction or non-payment; families that lack resources to obtain permanent housing; or children or families who do not have a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.
Often we do not think about children being homeless, but tens of thousands of Kentucky children experience homelessness each year. The National Center on Family Homelessness recently released a report, America’s Youngest Outcasts: A Report Card on Child Homelessness, highlighting various factors that may contribute to child homelessness among each state. For Kentucky, four factors contributed to the composite state rank (42nd) for child homelessness:
- Extent of Child Homelessness (ranked 50th) – Although Kentucky reduced its number of homeless children, it ranks last in the nation with 66,818 homeless children.
- Risk for Child Homelessness (ranked 36th) – Kentucky has an environment that puts kids at risk for being homeless, such as: poverty, home foreclosures, low incomes, and lack of affordable housing.
- Child Well-Being (ranked 42nd) – Children living in poverty face challenges with educational proficiency, food security, and chronic health.
- State Policy and Planning (ranked 20th) – Kentucky has done well in creating policies that protect vulnerable children and planning to improve outcomes for children that are homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless.
Some effective responses or solutions to child homelessness include safe and affordable housing, safety net supports for parents, educational and employment opportunities for parents, and a statewide earned income tax credit. Any of these would help reduce child homelessness, but safe and affordable housing, coupled with an earned income tax credit could help families provide for the immediate and basic needs of their children, including food, health care, transportation, and further educational opportunities.
Kentucky has the policy and planning framework in place; now is the time to take action and make tangible efforts to decrease child homelessness in Kentucky.