Health Effects of Homeless Children

In high school I volunteered for a non-profit organization called “Stepping Stones,” a program that provides transitional housing for children. I set up a table outside of the cafeteria to help raise money and spread information about the organization. There was another student helping me. I didn’t know her very well, but I decided to start a conversation with her as I knew I would be volunteering with her for the day. I soon learned that she was a part of the Stepping Stones program. At that moment I realized that homelessness does not always have the usual, negative stereotype. The truth is that that the majority of homeless people in America are children.

The recession has caused many single parents to lose their jobs and remain unemployed, making the problem worse. This leaves families unable to pay bills and to lose their homes. Children are forced to live in undesirable conditions because their parents are unable to bring in a sufficient income. It is a somewhat silent issue because of the embarrassment that comes with being homeless. Families will only turn to homeless shelters and soup kitchens as a last resort because the embarrassment is more hurtful than living in adverse environments.

These children must deal with stress on a daily basis. Even those who are not yet homeless but rather in jeopardy of becoming homeless or living in poverty must face the stress of potential homelessness. Children under such conditions worry about getting enough food, whether or when they will be kicked out of the house, how friends will react once homelessness is announced, and whether the child will be kicked out of school because of the lack of residency.

The stressors of being homeless can lead to many homeless children feeling depressed, causing detrimental health effects. Stress over long periods of time can cause the immune system, digestion system, and growth and reproductive systems to slow down or stop. Children are more at risk as they are still in the growing process. This is when psychological issues turn into physical. Not only is a child feeling depressed, stressed, and isolated, but the child is now suffering from health problems as well.

About the author: Nicole Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana University.