A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: Kentucky is worst state in nation for youth homelessness; next generation needs help

In honor of Youth Homelessness Matters Day, April 15, the Children’s Law Center coordinated Walk A Mile in My Shoes, an opportunity for youth in the Northern Kentucky area considered homeless to come together to share a meal and their stories. Children’s Law Center coordinated with the Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky and other local providers to create this tribute to of the area’s youth experiencing homelessness.

Screen shot 2015-04-20 at 9.46.13 AM

Kentucky is ranked 50th as the worst state for youth homelessness, and this population often sleep under bridges, in parks, or anywhere else they can lay their heads at night. Homelessness is a major issue that is often overlooked, overshadowed and these kids are often forgotten.

Who is considered homeless?

The definition in the McKinney Vento Act is any child who does not have a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. That includes: children who are not living with their parent or legal guardian, those living in hotels and shelters, those transitioning from foster care or juvenile justice programs, and anyone who is couch-surfing or staying in substandard housing. Youth experiencing homelessness creates an uneasy feeling for society as it shows overall systemic failures in protecting our youth.

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Education reported that 2.5 million children experienced homelessness; that is 1 in every 30 children. In Kentucky that number was 66,818 for 2013. Cincinnati.com reported that more than 1,725 students enrolled in Northern Kentucky schools were considered homeless for the 2011 – 2012 school year.

Why should we care?

Children who experience homelessness are at a greater risk of mental health issues, illnesses, and difficulty in school. They are twice as likely to have a learning disability and three times as likely to have an emotional behavioral disability.

Children who experience homelessness are twice as likely to develop ear infections, four times more likely to develop asthma, and five times more likely to experience abdominal distress. These children have increased rates for school truancy, failure, grade retention, and dropping out. They experience legal problems when guardianship or other caregivers might be in jeopardy, when denied enrollment or transportation to and from school, or when benefits are in danger of being lost.

What can we do?

If you know or suspect a child is experiencing homelessness, listen, offer support, and offer guidance. Most schools in the area now have homeless coordinators and family resource specialists. Homeward Bound is an emergency youth shelter in the Northern Kentucky area for runaway and homeless youth. For other assistance and resources for homeless children, please contact the Children’s Law Center at (859) 431-3313.

As one young man said at the dinner, “For me, homelessness was not a graveyard, but a battlefield, and I have declared victory.”

While the dinner and acknowledgements were one small step, I hope these children and young adults can all declare victory. And I hope that this week, they can hold their heads just a bit higher while on that road.

Screen shot 2015-04-20 at 9.53.28 AM

Kim Brooks Tandy is executive director and founder of the Children’s Law Center, Kentucky, located in Covington.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment