Report: Florida among 10 worst states for child homelessness

By | 12.13.11 | 2:31 pm

According to a report released today by The National Center on Family Homelessness, Florida has one of the worst rates of child homelessness in the country.

In a ranking of one (best) to 50 (worst), Florida ranks 42nd in the nation. About 84,000 children in Florida were homeless in 2010, a report (.pdf) from the group says.

The study, “America’s Youngest Outcasts 2010″ (.pdf), also found that “more than 1.6 million children or one in 45 are homeless annually in America [which] represents an increase of 38 percent during the years impacted by the economic recession (2007 to 2010).”

The report is based on 2006-2010 “data and research on the extent of child homelessness, child well-being, risk for homelessness, and state policy and planning efforts.”

According to the report:

Data from the original report showed that more than one in 50 children were homeless annually in America. That dropped to one in 63 in the recovery from Hurricanes Rita and Katrina and has increased since.

“The Recession has been a man-made disaster for vulnerable children,” said Ellen L. Bassuk, MD, President and Founder of The National Center on Family Homelessness and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “There are more homeless children today than after the natural disasters of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which caused historic levels of homelessness in 2006. The Recession’s economic devastation has left one in 45 children homeless in a year—an increase of 38% from 2007 to 2010.”

The report finds that children experiencing homelessness in America suffer from hunger and poor physical and emotional health as well as limited academic proficiency in reading and math. The constant barrage of stressful and traumatic experiences has profound effects on their development and ability to learn.”

The report also points out that “planning and policy activities to support these vulnerable children remain limited.”

“Sixteen states have done no planning related to child homelessness, and only seven states have extensive plans,” the reports says.

Florida ranked 35th in a 2010 state policy and planning ranking, according to the group’s Florida report. According to that study, the state has just over 4,000 housing units for homeless families — that list includes emergency shelters, transitional housing, HUD homes and permanent supportive housing. Florida also has a state housing trust fund and an active Interagency Council on Homelessness, but fails to have a “state 10-year plan that includes children and families.”

Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed  $12 million dollars from the state’s general revenue fund to the National Veterans’ Homeless Support Group for “homeless housing assistance grants.” The item was one of many public assistance programs Scott vetoed.

Florida faces another revenue shortfall this year, which puts all public assistance programs at risk for more budget reductions.

“In the face of this man-made disaster, there must be no further cuts in federal and state programs that help homeless children and families. Deeper cuts will only create more homelessness that will cost us more to fix in the long run,” Bassuk said in a statement included in the new report. “We can take specific action now in areas of housing, child care, education, domestic violence, and employment and training to stabilize vulnerable families and prevent child homelessness.”

Last month, Florida’s child homelessness epidemic received national attention. 60 Minutes shed light on the issue and took a hard look at a county in Florida that reported 1,100 homeless students in its K-12 schools.

Responding to the broadcast, state legislators announced a bipartisan effort to combat Florida’s homelessness crisis. State Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, and Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, announced that they “filed legislation for the 2012 Florida legislative session that seeks to raise awareness and funding to help combat homelessness.”

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