Call to Action | “No Street Address” The global magnitude of children’s homelessness

Report on the side event at the 58th U.N. Commission on Social Development addresses the detrimental effects of homelessness on the world’s most vulnerable and stresses the critical role of Early Childhood Development in building more cohesive and inclusive societies.
Homeless child searching for food on the side of a street. © Nikhil Gangavane, Dreamstime Images

 
NEW YORK, NY—On February 17, the UN elected event, Children`s Homelessness: Not only a matter of having a street address, but of building a more cohesive and inclusive society was held on the side of the 58th UN Commission on Social Development. A panel of five global experts, led by a top representative from the Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC), addressed the magnitude of homelessness in the United States and around the world. More specifically, they called urgent attention to its detrimental physical, emotional and economic effects on families and children. The deleterious effects of conflict and displacement on child development were also explored in the context of the growing refugee crises. A panel consensus was reached, based on the scientific body of evidence that underscores the significance of investing in family friendly policies to break the vicious cycle of poverty and ensure that every child can realize their full potential. Furthermore, such prioritization was put forward as an essential component of a good economy and in pursuit of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, a blueprint of 17 goals endorsed by all UN Member States that lead to the balancing of social, economic and environmental global sustainability.
 
Captured in the report below are five summaries of the presentations made by event panelists that include main points raised and calls to action. The report concludes with a recap of several key points on how homelessness affects children and families in the United States and around the world.
 
Read Part II of this two part news series "No street address" The impact of homelessness on single mothers and their children.
Learn more about the 58th U.N. Commission on Social Development (CSocD58)
Learn more about the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

► Event highlights

 ECPC Media.

Panelists

  1. Suna Hanoz-Penney, MA (Moderator) - Director of International Program, AÇEV-Mother Child Education Foundation (Turkey); Executive Committee member, Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC). "Homelessness and the Transformative Power of Early Childhood Development"
  2. Deborah K. Padgett, PhD, MPH - New York University Professor at the Silver School of Social Work and Affiliate Professor at the Department of Anthropology and the College of Global Public Health. "The Impact of Homelessness on Children and Families: Examining the Evidence”
  3. Chloe Stein, MA - Principal Policy Analyst, Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness, NYC. "Examining the Long-Lasting Impact of Homelessness on Children”
  4. Christopher Hanway, MA - Executive Director, Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement, NYC. "Educating Homeless Children: The Family Literacy Approach” 
  5. Nada Elattar, MPH - Early Childhood Development (ECD) Specialist in Emergencies at UNICEF, Headquarters in NYC; Secretary, Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC). "Survive and Thrive - Supporting Young Children and Families Impacted by Humanitarian Situations"

Read the panelists' biographies.


Acknowledgements & Gratitude

Sponsored by the World Organization for Early Childhood Education (OMEP), and co-sponsored by The Federation of American Women's Clubs Overseas (FAWCO), the NGO Committee on Migration, and the Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC).
 
Organized by Maria Pia Belloni Mignatti, Chair, NGO Committee on Migration; member OMEP; Advisory Board member, Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC); and Jane Mc Call Politi, Representative, The Federation of American Women's Clubs Overseas (FAWCO).

►Talk summaries

Talk 1. Homelessness and the Transformative Power of Early Childhood Development

Suna Hanoz-Penney, International Programs Director for Mother Child Education Foundation AÇEV, welcomed audience members to the side-event and expressed her enthusiasm as representative of the Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC) and its co-founder AÇEV, a leading educational non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Turkey that specializes in implementing early intervention programs for children and families at national and international levels. In her opening remarks, Mrs. Hanoz-Penney described AÇEV`s ongoing efforts to improve the quality of individuals' lives through early childhood development, parenting programs, and women's empowerment work in Turkey. She went onto provide a brief but powerful description of ECPC`s vision: to create a legacy of sustained peace drawing on the transformative power of early childhood development. 
 
She underscored the significance of both protective influences and risk factors that can influence early childhood and healthy childhood development, and their powerful implications for children and future health, major life skills, competencies, attitudes, and beliefs.
 
She expressed the alarming truth that today, more children than ever before are experiencing homelessness or living in areas of conflict, affected by violence. In her closing remarks, Ms. Hanoz-Penny shared how important it is to bring the science, the knowledge, the practice and the experience together to find solutions to the homelessness problem and build more socially cohesive societies.

Talk 2. The Impact of Homelessness on Children and Families: Examining the Evidence

Dr. Deborah K. Padgett, a professor at the Silver School of Social Work at New York University and an expert on the “Housing First” approach to ending homelessness, expressed her gratitude to audience members and sponsors of the side event. She revealed that family homelessness is a hidden crisis. Although 50 to 60% of all homeless people are members of families, entire homeless families are mostly hidden from public view by the shelter system. 
 
She went on to describe ‘chronically homeless individuals’, a relatively small subgroup of the homeless that accounts for a huge disproportion of costs in terms of hospital visits, jail stays, and shelter stays. She reported that Housing First has made the greatest impact for this subgroup by providing them access to immediate housing in addition to substance abuse, mental illness and trauma services.
 
Dr. Padgett opposed the widely accepted view in the United States that housing is something that needs to be earned by going up a “staircase of rules”. However, she reflected on the success of the housing of veterans and attributed it to a unique political will that views veterans as especially deserving of society`s full support. 
She remarked that the principles of Housing First can apply to homeless families. She provided examples of Housing First adaptations in Seattle and Minneapolis for children and mothers fleeing domestic violence. 
 
Dr. Padgett concluded her presentation by making three observations on how homelessness effects children based on research conducted to date:
  1. The impact of homelessness is even worse than the impact of extreme poverty on families. Shelters do not accommodate families with children who are forced to move from location to location. Instability in housing and schooling leads to negative educational outcomes for children.
  2. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), e.g., trauma and abuse during childhood, have long lasting damaging effects on children that reach into adulthood. Homeless children are at greater risk for such adverse conditions. This is especially the case when children are separated from their families by child welfare authorities without cause, beyond the fact that the family is falling into homelessness.
  3. Racism has contributed to family homelessness in a way that is often not acknowledged by policy makers. Wealth extraction from African American communities that has gone on for decades is why the majority of the chronically homeless are African American. Decades of concentrated economic disadvantage have put African Americans at great risk for homelessness.

Talk 3. Examining the Long-Lasting Impact of Homelessness on Children

Chloe Stein is a principal policy analyst for the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness (ICPH), a policy research organization focused on child and family homelessness in New York city and throughout the United States. Ms. Stein remarked that homelessness disproportionately impacts young children: 1) one in every 100 babies born in New York City hospitals are brought home to a shelter; and 2) almost half of all children in New York city family shelters are under the age of six. 
 
She emphasized why the education system needs to address the unique challenges homeless children face. She reported that research has shown that, in comparison to their peers, homeless students are more likely to be clinically absent, transfer schools mid-year, require English learning language services, and have special education needs identified later in their education, an issue that may lead to long-lasting educational and socioeconomic disadvantages for these individuals.
 
Ms. Stein underlined the many uncertainties children face due to homelessness. She stated that the classroom needs to be made a pillar of stability and consistency to break the cycle of homelessness. She reported that youth lacking high school diplomas are at a 346% greater risk of becoming homeless in adulthood. Her proposed solution to such inequities involves providing early education to children experiencing housing instability. The evidence-base shows that access to pre-kindergarten education leads to improved academic outcomes and higher graduation rates later in life. 
 
The ICPH has been tracking the educational outcomes of homeless pre-K students in New York City, which is of special interest to the city, which in 2014, expanded access to Universal pre-Ks to all four-year old children. Ms. Stein shared that in school year 2016-2017, homeless kindergartners were less likely than their housed peers to have been enrolled in pre-K and pointed to difficulties in identifying and reaching homeless children, despite pre-K education being universal. She reiterated that early childhood education (ECE) is protective against some of the negative impacts of homelessness, although homeless students still performed worse than their housed peers, regardless of attending pre-K. She underscored the need to support students who have experienced homelessness not just when they are experiencing it, but throughout their educational years of schooling. She reiterated that the educational impact of housing instability on children is long lasting, even after students move into permanent housing. 
 
Ms. Stein summarized four main areas of evidence-based impact on the mental health of homeless youth in New York City:
  1. Half of homeless high school students reported experiencing depression. 
  2. Nearly one in three homeless high school students had attempted suicide.
  3. Homeless high school students were five times more likely to experience dating violence.
  4. Homeless high school students were seven times more likely to have been pregnant or to have gotten someone pregnant, potentially furthering the cycle of trauma and homelessness.
In her closing remarks, Ms. Stein re-emphasized that the effects of homelessness are long lasting and that approaches to helping families achieve true stability need to go beyond housing:

“A family's experience with financial instability or domestic abuse doesn't suddenly disappear once the family gets a home of their own. While affordable housing is absolutely essential, it must be accompanied by wraparound services for parents and their children, like job training, support for victims of domestic violence, financial literacy, childcare services and access to physical and mental health care.”


Talk 4. Educating Homeless Children: The Family Literacy Approach

Christopher Hanway is Executive Director of Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement, one of New York City`s 38 settlement houses. In his opening remarks, he explained that settlement houses are community place-based organizations that offer local services to families and family members of various age groups. He reported that the resettlement of homeless families into public housing has at times forced multiple families into single family space units. He said that overcrowding conditions like these can put families back at risk for homelessness if asked to leave by the housing authority or by their own relatives. 
 
Mr. Hanway described how his organization provides after school education programs to children of families who live in gentrified area hotels and motels that function as homeless shelters. He pointed out the educational and psychological disadvantages these children suffer due to living in hotels without amenities, in addition to having to move on a regular basis. He underscored that poverty and homelessness create unique challenges for affected parents who find it difficult to view education as a priority for themselves and their children. He explained that Family Literacy is a multi-generational approach that recognizes the parent or familial caregiver as the primary educator for their child. When parents are dedicated to their own education, they serve as positive role models for their children's academic success.
 
Mr. Hanway outlined four main components of the Family Literacy model:
  1. Adult education: Parents become the primary teachers and full partners in the education of their children.
  2. Parent time: Literacy training can lead to a parent’s own economic and social development, especially if he/she is a migrant and English is not his/her primary language.
  3. Children’s education: Age appropriate education for children helps prepare them for success in school and in life, with emphasis on literacy and numeracy.
  4. PACT Time, Parent and Child Together time: A scheduled time when a parent and child engage in child-led literacy and numeracy activities that foster reciprocal learning.
In his concluding remarks, he shared research findings that support the efficacy of the family literacy model: 
  • More sophisticated language skills in children have been linked to parent literacy skills and shared reading. 
  • Children from high income earning families hear 20 million more words by the age of three than children from high poverty families.
  • Family literacy programs that incorporate vocational skills training increase employment opportunities for parents and helps break the cycle of low socioeconomic outcomes and low literacy.

Talk 5. Survive and Thrive -Supporting Young Children and Families Impacted by Humanitarian Situations

Nada Elattar is Specialist, Early Childhood Development (ECD) in Emergencies at UNICEF and Secretary to the ECPC. She commenced her talk by proclaiming the rights of all children to health, nutrition, education, protection, development, play, that can form a strong foundation and lead to a better future. She underscored the importance of secure bonding and attachment between newborns and their primary caregivers as essential for brain development that occurs most rapidly in the early years of life. She pointed out how healthy attachment can form the bedrock of a child’s individual success, as well as develop resilience, family and societal cohesion, that can pave the way toward building sustainable and peaceful societies. 
 
But in contrast, she reminded the event audience of the stark realization that masses of families and children around the globe live in adverse conditions that do not support early childhood development: 
“One in five children in low- and middle-income countries, that's approximately 385 million, are living in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 a day and we know that poverty and homelessness are interrelated and are in fact risk multipliers.”
 
Ms. Elattar further focused attention on the multitudes of children affected by conflict and displacement. She revealed that in 2018 alone, 29 million babies (approximately 1 in 5 babies) were born into conflict affected areas.
“Exposure prolonged violence and poverty and other forms of adversity, including displacement homelessness can leave young children at risk of what is called toxic stress. Toxic stress is a biological response in the brain to prolonged and severe adversity that disrupts a child's brain development.”
 
Ms. Elattar underscored how research shows that nurturing care, including early stimulation, talking to babies, communicating with them, playing with them, and responsive caregiving can mitigate the effects of toxic stress. The Nurturing Care Framework is made of components such as good health, adequate nutrition, responsive caregiving, security and safety and opportunities for early learning. The developing brain during early life, from pregnancy to three years of age, is most susceptible to environmental influences. Nurturing care provides the child with necessary physical, cognitive and psychological nourishment and best counters negative influences of adverse environmental exposures, such as the ones brought about my homelessness and immigration homelessness. 
 
Ms. Elattar further summarized 4 basic Family-Friendly policies, recommended by global experts:
  1. Provide enough paid leave to all parents, in both the formal and informal economies, to meet the needs of their young children
  2. Provide breaks and support so that mothers can breastfeed exclusively for 6 months
  3. Ensure that all children have access to affordable, quality childcare and early education
  4. Provide child benefits and adequate wages to help all families provide for young children
In her closing remarks, Ms. Elattar underlined that such policies are good for families, good for business, good for economies and are crucial to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. She explained that, in addition to SDG target 11.1 (housing), these policies also address SDG 4.2 (ECD), 3.2 (preventable deaths under 5), SDG 2.2 (malnutrition and stunting), 16.2 (end violence, 8.5 (achieve decent work) and others. They are not only good to create lifelong improvements for individuals who experience homelessness, but also ideal to create cross-generational development in terms of health, economy, sustainability and social cohesion. She ended her talk by a very strong call to action:

“Governments, businesses, civil society and families can come together to ensure that children SURVIVE and THRIVE and can realize their full potential, - breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and vulnerability, and realizing their rights to social security irrespective of their status. At UNICEF, we have started to say:  It’s about time.”


Conclusion: key points on how homelessness affects children and families

Speakers made several key points on how homelessness affects children and families in the United States and around the world:
  1. Environmental exposures during early development are pivotal.
  2. The global crisis of conflict and homelessness has a huge impact of on the well-being of children worldwide. 
  3. A multidisciplinary approach is needed to combine scientific, practical and political work that is being done in this area. 
  4. Family homelessness has a social problem of great magnitude that is underappreciated due to most homeless families living in the shelter system. 
  5. Housing should not be seen as something that needs to be earned, as it is a universal human right. 
  6. Family homelessness in the United States can be tackled far more efficiently, as seen when compared to the successes in the homeless veteran population, suggesting the importance of an adequate political will. 
  7. The impact of homelessness on families is even greater than that of extreme poverty. 
  8. Homeless children are at a greater risk for adverse childhood experiences, like trauma and abuse which may have long lasting damaging effects.
  9. Racism needs to be considered as the great problem it is by policy makers since decades of economic disadvantage and wealth extraction from African American communities have contributed to family homelessness and chronical homelessness in African Americans. 
  10. A large number of babies and children in New York City are homeless. 
  11. Homeless children experience educational disadvantages throughout their lives. Pre-K education can be helpful in ameliorating such disadvantages. 
  12. Early Childhood Education can provide homeless children with a sense of stability. 
  13. Support for homeless parents and children needs to go beyond housing; necessary services include job training, support for victims of domestic violence, financial literacy, childcare services and access to physical and mental health care.” 
  14. Family Literacy is a multi-generational approach that recognizes the parent or familial caregiver as the primary educator for their child. 
  15. Educating the parents and improving the parent and child together time are important for the Family Literacy model which researchers find to be highly efficient. 
  16. There is an alarming contrast between the notion that all children have the rights to protection, development and health and the fact that masses of families and children around the globe live in adverse conditions, such as poverty and homelessness, that do not support early childhood development. 
  17. Nurturing care, made up of good health, adequate nutrition, responsive caregiving, security and safety and opportunities for early learning, can lessen the effects such adversity. 
  18. Family Friendly Policies are crucial for families, economies and the overall development of nations.

More information

Publications

  1. National Center for Homeless Education. (2020). Federal data summary: School years 2015-2016 through 2017-2018, Education for homeless children and youth.
  2. GlobalGiving. (2019). Housing now! 2020
  3. Shah S. (2019). Early Childhood Development in Humanitarian Crises. South Sudanese Refugees in Uganda, 1st Edition. Routledge
  4. UNANIMA International. (2019). The impact of personal and family circumstances on homelessness
  5. European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA). (2013). Homelessness Amongst Immigrants in the EU– A Homeless Service Providers’ Perspective
  6. OECD. (2011). Perspectives on Global Development 2012: Social Cohesion in a Shifting World, OECD Publishing, Paris.

UNICEF resources

  1. UNICEF ECDiE Case Studies
  2. UNICEF ECDiE Kit for Emergencies Evaluation Synthesis
  3. UNICEF ECDiE Kit Guide
  4. UNICEF Fact Sheet. Early Childhood Development in Emergencies
  5. UNICEF. (2018). Every child survives and thrives: Global annual results report 2018. (See section on ECD.)

News

  1. Ziveri, M. (2020). Is Youth Homelessness Going Up or Down? It Depends on Whom You Ask. New York Times, March, 2020.
  2. Ziveri, M. (2020). Number of Homeless Students Rises to New High, Report Says. New York Times, February, 2020.
  3. Shapiro, E. (2019). 114,000 Students in N.Y.C. Are Homeless. These Two Let Us Into Their Lives.
  4. Barua A, Frey R, Suriya N, & Byrnes K. (2019). The homelessness paradox: Why do advanced economies still have people who live on the streets? Deloitte Insights. 25 Sept, 2019. 
  5. Kuo G. (2019). Yet another emerging global crisis- Homelessness. Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB). August, 2019. 

Links

  1. Family homelessness
  2. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Social cohesion. 

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Submitted on 07 March 2020 by Bekir B. Artukoglu and N. Shemrah Fallon.

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