Child Homelessness and Hunger: An Overlooked Matter

Author: Muhammad Hudhud, Johns Hopkins University

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Wake up folks: child homelessness in the United States has reached historically high levels , according to a report from the National Center on Family Homelessness (NCFH). The report notes that 2.5 million children were homeless at some point in 2013. [1] That number equates to about one in every 30 American children being homeless. In light of Thanksgiving, a time where families across America gather in the warmth of their homes to enjoy plentiful meals, the issue of child homelessness holds particular gravitas.

So, what do we think of when we think of homelessness? Definitions vary, ranging from not having a consistent place to sleep, to sleeping places not intending to be slept in. [2] For many, the image of people sleeping in boxes, in sleeping bag on the street, or propped up against the a wall come to mind. However, instead of begging on the street, many homeless children are ‘invisible.’ As in, many of these children wear ‘normal’ clothes, go to school, do homework, and make class projects. [3] Such kids may even be on the National Honor Roll, all without letting any of their peers know about their condition. In New York City alone there are an estimated 22,000 homeless children. Many children facing homelessness report being pushed to trade sex just for a place to stay the night. [1] It is no coincidence that New York’s five boroughs also have one the highest rates of child food-insecurity (22.5%). [4] However, for many visitors to New York, child homelessness cannot be found.

Just because a problem cannot be perceived on the surface, does not mean it can be ignored.

In other words, we must step out of our myopic vision of what homelessness or hunger ‘look like.’ The reality is that, as more and more parents in low-income households have to choose to pay the rent or pay for food, more and more children will either sleep on the street, go hungry or both. And it is not as if these parents for the most part, single or together, do not work. Rather, many of which hold stable jobs, but ends do not meet, and the parent or caretaker cannot sustain a family with minimum wage. For example, Walmart workers around the country have recently gone on strike after continually suffering from food insecurity, due to its near-minimum wage salaries. Such institutionalized processes keep a large portion of the American work force hungry, underpaid, and exploited.

Homelessness however, is only one problem that so many children face. About 15 million (one in five) children in the US are below the poverty line, and a whopping estimated 16 million live in food-insecure homes. Food security on the other hand, can be defined as “…all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.” [5]

Our perceptions of hunger and homelessness cannot be confined to a small part of our minds; these are not conditions of the ‘third world’ but realities currently facing a growing number of our own citizens. No matter which country hunger affects, though, it is imperative that we are aware of and commit to eliminating both hunger and homelessness, lest we forget how to be ‘decent’ human beings. In short, we cannot simply shut our eyes and ears to a problem that may not make itself manifest, for ignorance is not bliss. It is a sickness that threatens to rot a system from within, especially if the upper echelons of society cannot even ‘look down’ at the conditions of those less fortunate. So this Thanksgiving, let us think about not only the 16 million children who go hungry, or the 2.5 million kids who go through homelessness, but all those experiencing hunger, poverty, and domestic violence around the world.

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Sources:

[1]- http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/11/17/us-homelessmes-amongchildrenrising.html

[2]- http://www.nhchc.org/faq/official-definition-homelessness/

[3]- http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/invisible-child/#/?chapt=1

[4]- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/18/us-child-hunger-rates-county-2013_n_3455328.html

[5]- http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/impact-of-hunger/child-hunger/child-hunger-fact-sheet.html

 

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