The number of homeless students in Pennsylvania has increased by 18 percent over the past two years, reaching a total of 26,273, according to data provided by the state school districts.
State Rep. Donna Bullock (D-195), who sponsored a resolution passed last month that established youth homelessness awareness week, says many people are still struggling from the economic downturn. She said higher numbers were being reported as children advanced out of preschool, since those children are not counted in the system.
“I believe the numbers are even higher, but they’re not reported,” Bullock said.
She adds there is a growing disparity of homelessness in people of color and people in the LGBTQ community.
Pennsylvania’s annual Education for Youth Experiencing Homelessness Awareness Week, which began Monday, addresses an issue that affects more than 26,000 students in schools across the state.
Nationwide, more than 1.4 million schoolchildren are homeless. In a report titled, “America’s Youngest Outcasts,” the American Institutes for Research described many causes for the increase in youth homelessness, including the continued effects of the 2008 Great Recession, racial disparities and a nationwide lack of affordable housing.
The two populations most in need are preschool children and teenagers, said Bullock, who noted that “nobody is aware of their existence and their struggles.”
The report ranked Pennsylvania eighth in the country on state performance regarding policies to tackle homelessness. Factors the state struggled with included child well-being, such as food security and education.
Bullock designated Friday as “Red Shirt Day.” By wearing a red shirt, people will show “solidarity with children experiencing homelessness and their educators.”
“I am honored all my colleagues supported it and acknowledged the issue,” Bullock said. “I hope they put forward dollars.”
The awareness week also coincides with this year’s National Hunger and Homelessness Week, and the Homes in Reach Conference in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Presented by the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, the conference is a week-long series of panels and discussions on homelessness.
Bullock says the holidays are the time when many people feel the need to donate or volunteer. Still, she says people don’t pay attention to the plight of their neighbors.
“You’re often the first person to notice something different,” Bullock said. “Maybe we can prevent that family from being homeless in the first place.”