Homeless children being led to lunch at a Dallas soup kitchen.John Moore/Getty Images
Marjorie Tenhagen, who works with homeless youth at the Shaw House in Bangor, Maine, wasn’t surprised when she heard about a new report showing a dramatic increase in the number of homeless children enrolled in school throughout the United States.
“We’ve always had a lot of homeless youth, but this has been the highest number that we’ve had,” she told Al Jazeera.
An annual report from the National Center for Homeless Education, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, found that 1.2 million students enrolled in schools across the U.S. were homeless between 2011 and 2012, a 10 percent increase from the 2010-11 school year.
The number is an all-time high for the survey, and a 72 percent increase since 2007, when the global recession began.
The data also contained some troubling facts about individual states.
In Maine and North Carolina, the number of homeless kids in K through 12th grade increased by more than 50 percent. Ten states saw increases of 20 percent or more. And only eight states saw decreases.
While the report didn’t identify a specific reason for the marked increases, experts and those who work with the homeless say the recession and its aftermath have left many families struggling to provide housing for their children.
“Kids come here because their whole family is homeless,” said Tenhagen. “It’s been hard to get a job, (so families) don’t have enough money to get an apartment.”
The study is mandated by the McKinney-Vento Act, which requires states to support homeless students with services like shelters and books.
This year’s report was released just after two other studies that paint a bleak picture for America’s children. One, from the Southern Education Foundation, found that nearly 50 percent of schoolchildren across the country were low-income enough to receive free or reduced-price meals at school.
The other report, from the U.S. Census Bureau, revealed that nearly 25 percent of children, about 16.1 million, lived below the poverty line in 2012.