There are federal mandates and some stimulus funds, but not nearly enough to keep up with this heartbreaking problem.
According to a National Center on Family Homelessness (NCFH) Fact Sheet published in April 2008, there are more homeless women and children living in the U.S. than in any other industrialized nation. Even if you already knew that, it's still shocking to read in a New York Times story by Erik Eckholm, "Surge in Homeless Children Strains School Districts," that in spring 2009 more than 1 million American children were homeless.
The number is going up. Estimates are that the count of homeless children has risen by 75 to 100 percent over the past two years as a result of family job losses and mortgage foreclosures, and will continue to rise at accelerated rates. This is bad news not just for parents and children but for school districts.
The stresses of homelessness tell not only on the children and their parents, but also on schools. School districts financially strapped by the economic downturn and other factors lack resources to help a child who couldn't do his homework before falling asleep alongside his parents in the family car the previous night, or who is continually shuttled from relatives' homes to a room in a motel to a campground tent.
Under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, first voted into law in 2001, districts are required to take specific steps on behalf of children who become homeless. The purpose is to minimize interruptions of their schooling and cut red tape that could bar or delay their entrance into appropriate programs. McKinney-Vento has "closed destructive gaps in schooling," say the sources Eckholm cites. But even with some Congressional funding to aid compliance, school districts already financially strapped by the recession and other factors are finding it harder to meet needs specified in the federal mandate as the numbers of homeless children increase.