Homeless child - What does it mean to be one?
Doc Smitty on the effects of homelessness youth and children
Silas Nacita, a college football player for Baylor in Waco, was recently suspended by athletic department for accepting improper benefits. These benefits including taking money and an apartment from some who were originally called “close family friends,” although this has been called into question. Nacita was a popular player for the team because of the fact that he had overcome a tough social situation. He grew up in California, basically fatherless and estranged from his mother, which led to time where he was homeless. When he accepted the apartment and benefits for which he was declared ineligible, he was living on floors and couches of friends-he was homeless.
When people think of homelessness, they commonly think of someone living in a park or on the street with no structure to sleep under but the effects of homelessness are felt by many in less dire circumstances. There are various classifications of homelessness which include homelessness without shelter but also include the following:
- Homelessness with shelter - Living in a supervised private or public shelter.
- Imminent homelessness - A chance that the primary residence will be lost in 14 days.
- Youth/family instability
In survey data from 2012, the Cook Children’s Center for Children’s Health show than 7.5 out of 1000 kids in Tarrant and the surrounding counties had spent the night in an emergency shelter or with family/friends due to homelessness. Because of the nature of the study, my suspicion is that this number is likely understated. Despite the fact that it is more common in low socioeconomic areas, it is not restricted there. An example of this might include a child who is kicked out of the home for various reasons.
What are the effects of homelessness youth and children?
- 97 percent have moved more than once in the last year.
- Interrupted or ineffective school participation
- 22 percent have been witnesses to domestic violence
- 50 percent of homeless teenagers have depression or anxiety
- More likely to have severe asthma, malnutrition, ear infections, exposure to toxins
- More likely to have mental health and substance abuse issues
- More like to engage in dangerous sexual activity leading to STDs and unintended pregnancies
- 7 times more likely to be victims of violent crime
All of these issues can be categorized under the heading “toxic stress.” Toxic stress occurs when a child experiences strong, frequent and prolonged adversity. Studies show that these experiences can have significant effects on the development of the brain and other organs which can lead to increased risk for negative mental and physical health outcomes. These problems can persist well into the adult years, even when the stressful situations have resolved.
What can you do?
- Be aware - One of the biggest problems with addressing homelessness is that many people are not aware that it is even an issue in their area.
- Donate time - There are many programs available in our area where you can serve as a mentor to children in schools. Children going through toxic stress benefit greatly from having an adult who spends time with them and with whom they can process their experiences.
- Donate financial resources - Many homeless shelters struggle to survive financially. They have a hard time providing healthy nutritional options and, certain times of year, even enough beds to house all those in need.
Learn more about homeless in Tarrant County here.
Justin Smith, M.D., is a Cook Children's pediatrician in Lewisville . View more from The Doc Smitty at his Facebook page. He attended University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School and did his pediatric training at Baylor College of Medicine. He joins Cook Children's after practicing in his hometown of Abilene for four years. He has a particular interest in development, behavior and care for children struggling with obesity. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his 3 young children, exercising, reading and writing about parenting and pediatric health issues.