This year, an estimated 7,433 children under age 6 will experience homelessness. Not across the nation or even Texas, but right here in Tarrant County. Our community.
One in 23 children will experience homelessness before they even start kindergarten.
This is tragic. These are babies.
As if the trauma of homelessness is not enough, these young children are at greater risk of experiencing assault, witnessing violence and being abruptly separated from their families.
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The toxic stress of poverty and homelessness causes actual physical damage to their developing brains and bodies.
The American Psychological Association notes that homeless children are twice as likely to have a learning disability, repeat a grade or be suspended from school.
Children who experience homelessness are more likely to experience low birth weight, malnutrition, infections and chronic illness such as asthma.
This is not acceptable.
These young children have no choice in their circumstances, no say in what happens.
They are the most voiceless and invisible of the homeless.
You won’t see them on the street corner holding a sign asking for food or money.
The majority won’t ever enter a shelter because there isn’t enough space to house them.
Their families live in cars, in pay-by-the-hour motels, with strangers and, when most desperate, on the streets.
They need a voice. Your voice.
We need to do more for our community’s most vulnerable members.
The devastating consequences of homelessness for each child are real and can last a lifetime.
In a community committed to making sure every child born today will be able to read at grade level by the third grade, these children are destined to fail.
Success won’t come to children who are too hungry, too frightened and too sick to learn.
The economic consequences, should we choose to turn away from this challenge, are clear.
Special education, medical and mental health treatment can cost taxpayers more than $25,000 per year per child.
Homelessness might be their history, but it does not have to be their future.
A concerned group of nonprofits and residents has come together to develop innovative and collaborative solutions.
Representatives from the Center for Transforming Lives, Child Care Associates, city of Fort Worth, Cook Children’s Medical Center, Early Learning Alliance, Fort Worth Housing Solutions, JPS Hospital District, MHMR of Tarrant County, Office of Tarrant County Judge Glenn Whitley, Tarrant County Community Development, Tarrant County Homeless Coalition (including local shelters), UNT Health Science Center and Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County have sought feedback from homeless families and service providers to understand the roadblocks to success and to create solutions that work.
Among other solutions, Tarrant County needs greater access to affordable child care and housing, and job training so people can earn enough to support their families.
On Monday, this group will hold a working session designed to bring these ideas to reality.
If you are interested in attending and being part of the solution, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 817-484-1535.
We need to invest in these babies. Now. Before it’s too late.
Elaine Klos and Carol Klocek are co-chairs for Community Response to Homelessness in Early Childhood.