The report, “Homeless Children Ages 5 and Younger in Orange County,” showed a 20 percent increase in homeless children in fiscal year 2011/2012 over the prior year. On any given night in 2011, 444 children were homeless, according to the report, which also found that the typical homeless family was a single mother in her late 20s with two children, one or both usually under age 6.
“Our mission is to reach out to and improve the lives of the most vulnerable among us – children 5 and younger,” said Sandra Barry, chair of the Children and Families Commission of Orange County. “Streets, cars and shelters are no place for Orange County’s children. Homelessness is extraordinarily traumatic on young children, and the findings of this new report underscore the urgent need to expand the county’s Emergency Shelter programs as part of the Commission’s commitment to work with our community partners to end homelessness within the next 10 years.”
The report contained several long-range recommendations and noted the strides the Commission – working closely with the large network of community organizations and agencies it helps fund – is making on behalf of homeless children and their families. For example, in fiscal year 2011/2012:
· 64,348 shelter bed nights were provided to 780 young children
· 105,411 shelter bed nights were provided to 1,355 family members
· 106 children under age 6 were screened for vision, hearing, height, weight, health and developmental milestones
The report made the following key recommendations as part of the Commission’s comprehensive effort to end homelessness in Orange County:
· Continue to play a leading role in the Commission to End Homelessness. This countywide body comprises a 17-member advisory committee whose members are overseeing comprehensive strategies to eliminate homelessness in Orange County over the next 10 years. The report stressed that the continued participation of the Children and Families Commission is crucial to ensuring a well-coordinated and collaborative effort among the various agencies and resources that have been aligned to serve the county’s homeless population.
· Strengthen homeless data reporting and analysis. The report recommends that the Commission work to streamline the way data on homelessness and those who receive services is collected and reported by numerous county agencies. Streamlining the processes would eliminate redundancies and help the collective agencies adopt practices that increase efficiencies.
· Expand the county’s system of emergency shelters. The Commission currently funds two Emergency Shelter programs. As the Commission and its partners work to end homelessness, in the meantime they also should focus on expanding the number of shelter beds available to children and their families, to ensure they have safe shelter as they work to regain self-sufficiency.
‘Many Paths to Homelessness’
The report noted that, while the typical homeless family is a young mother with two children, “there are many paths to homelessness”
Homelessness exacts staggering emotional and physical tolls on society’s youngest members, the report emphasized. For example, children who experience homelessness:
· Are sick four times as often and experience acute and chronic health problems at much higher rates as other children
· Repeat a grade at two times the rate of other children
· Experience twice the rate of learning disabilities as children who are not homeless
· Suffer from anxiety, depression, withdrawal and aggression at three times the rate of their non-homeless peers
The report was compiled for the Commission using data collected by the Orange County Homeless Management Information System (HMIS); the Social Services Agency of Orange County, which gathers caseload data on families who seek assistance from CalWORKs; and the county’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs.
About the Children and Families Commission of Orange County
The Children and Families Commission of Orange County oversees the allocation of funds from Proposition 10, which added a 50-cent tax on tobacco products sold in California. Almost $47 million was allocated last year to fund 170 programs that served more than 165,800 young children. Funds help pay for early education, pediatric primary and specialty health care, children’s dental, homeless prevention, and child development programs for children from the prenatal stage to age 5 and their families. The Commission’s goal is to ensure all children are healthy and ready to learn when they enter school. For more information, please visit www.occhildrenandfamilies.com.