In Alabama, nearly 5 percent of children under 18 are homeless, according to a recent study published by the National Center on Family Homelessness.
The study found Alabama to be the worst state in terms of child homelessness.
Nationally, the number of homeless children has been steadily rising since 2006. That year, there were an estimated 1.5 million displaced youth. In 2013, that number had risen to 2.5 million. About one in 30 children are now without a home.
According to the NCFH study, “America’s Youngest Outcasts,” no state exemplifies this tragic statistic more than Alabama. In 2012 there were an estimated 35,239 homeless children in Alabama. In 2013, that number jumped to 59,349 — that’s one in 20 children without a home, well above the national average.
NCFH Director Dr. Carmela DeCandia said that more than half of homeless children are under the age of 6. She said that the homelessness rate for America’s youth has been on the rise since the 1980s.
“The number of homeless children has been increasing now for three decades. There are a number of issues that are underlying what’s going on. For one, I would say that poverty is the real driver. In addition we have seen the demographics of families has changed. We see now homeless families are usually headed by single mothers who are parenting young children. The moms are typically in their twenties,” DeCandia said.
“They have limited employment opportunities,” DeCandia continued. “So having those kind of conditions, they need a lot of support — things like childcare, transportation and job skill training. There has been either flat or decreased funding for services to help moms to be able to get a livable wage and afford housing.”
A number of different factors were used in the NCFH study to get the composite score for each state. Alabama was ranked 47th in extent of child homelessness; 49th in child well-being (health problems with children below 100 percent poverty); 45th in risk for child homelessness; and 44th in state policy and planning.
DeCandia said the cost of housing has outpaced income, especially for mothers who are living below the poverty line and are having to work two jobs while paying for childcare.
“A lot of mothers are just one crisis away from falling into homelessness,” DeCandia said. “Their child gets sick once, so they miss work and lose their jobs. Then they miss their rent payment and the next thing you know, they are out of a home.”
The residual effects of the Great Recession are continuing to impact young mothers, she said. A big problem in Alabama, DeCandia explained, is the minimum wage. “In Alabama the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, and to be able to afford a two bedroom apartment, you typically need to be making about $13.34 an hour,” DeCandia said.
“Housing is essential, but it’s not enough,” she continued. Focusing on education and employment skills for young mothers is something that DeCandia believes could be improved in Alabama.
“The states that have active plans, you see the state come together and make those efforts happen. That’s one thing Alabama could improve. It’s one thing we noted when we gathered our data, there was no inter-agency council to address homelessness, and while there is an active plan in place, there is no focus on kids and families,” DeCandia said. “If we help the parents, the parents can take care of the kids.”