More children are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless in Texas than in any other state, according to a report released today.
The study by the National Center on Family Homelessness in Newton Centre, Mass., ranks Texas at the bottom of a state-by-state report card on child homelessness.
Texas had 337,105 homeless children as of 2006, including Hurricane Katrina evacuees, according to the report.
Ellen Bassuk, president of the National Center on Family Homelessness, said Texas lacks long-term planning to aid them.
"Homeless children are invisible. You don't see them. You don't see them walking around the streets. People don't talk about them," she said.
The report did not indicate how North Texas by itself shapes up on child homelessness.
But local experts say the numbers have risen because of the economy. A 2008 count found that there were 1,273 homeless children on any given night in Dallas County, and officials expect that figure to rise due to job losses and foreclosures.
Area schools already have reported dramatic increases in the number of homeless students.
"Women and children are the fastest growing population of homeless nationally and in the Dallas area," said Mike Faenza, president and chief executive officer of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance. He said the agency has a subcommittee working on a plan to address the issue.
Some local shelters also have seen more homeless families in recent months.
The Samaritan Inn in McKinney has been so full, the shelter has been turning away 15 families each week, said Lynne Sipiora, executive director. The 120-bed shelter typically houses about 40 children with their parents - including two newborns last year.
"We are turning away more and more families," she said. "We've had people say, 'I'll wait [for an opening]. I'll sleep in my car for six or seven weeks.' "
Jania Deary and her 3-year-old son have called Family Gateway shelter in Dallas home for nearly two months after staying with relatives. Her son, Luke Spaeth, did not sleep or eat well at first and asked her if he could go home.
"He's OK now because there are a lot of loving people here," she said, adding that she hopes to get a job and move into her own place soon.
Family Gateway is housing 45 children, with 23 below age 5, said Kelly Harris, acting executive director.
Many of the families at Dallas Life Foundation shelter have jobs but don't earn enough to afford an apartment, said The Rev. Bob Sweeney, executive director.
"We're not talking about deadbeat dads or moms who won't work," he said. "We're talking about people whose paycheck just won't go far enough to feed their family anymore."
The national center hopes its study will raise awareness and lead to solutions. Bassuk said, for example, that Texas could give homeless mothers priority for subsidized child care, expand health care coverage for children and provide more affordable housing.
Texas received the lowest ranking in the nation in a state report card on child homelessness released today by the National Center on Family Homelessness. Findings include:
Texas had 337,105 homeless children in 2006, including some Hurricane Katrina evacuees.
One in 20 Texas children does not know where he or she will get the next meal.
Less than one in four homeless children graduates from high school.
More than one in five Texas children are uninsured.
Texas has no long-term planning to address homeless children, according to the center.
For more information, go to www.familyhomelessness.org.
SOURCE: National Center on Family Homelessness