Homeless families are increasing at an alarming rate in the United States, with profound effects on millions of American children. One in fifty children experiences homelessness in America each year, according to a recent study by the National Center on Family Homelessness. Nearly half of those children are under the age of six – the most vulnerable group of all.
Dr. Jack Shonkoff, Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, believes that the consequences of homelessness on young children will affect them and society not only in the short term, but also throughout their lives. “Research on the biology of stress in early childhood shows how chronic stress caused by major adversity, such as extreme poverty, abuse or neglect, can weaken developing brain architecture and permanently set the body’s stress response system on high alert, thereby increasing the risk for a range of chronic diseases,” he expounded in a recent paper. He went on to state that, “Research shows that later interventions are likely to be less successful – and in some cases are ineffective," and that, “homelessness is providing the foundation for a lot of things that are going to cost society a lot of money later.”
Such grim forecasts make the work of organizations such as Horizons for Homeless Children (HHC) that much more critical. The program, located in Boston, provides day care and early education for homeless children under six.
For mother Nicole Adams, once homeless and now living in temporary housing, HHC offers her two-year-old daughter Khani an environment that encourages her thirst for learning. It also provides a safe haven from the violence that plagues her neighborhood, where seven shootings, including the murder of a child, occurred this past year. “I just definitely want a different life for her than what I had, period, “ explained Nicole.
Without the program, these children would spend their days in shelters or on the streets. With it, they are provided the tools for healthy growth and development so that they will be on pace with their peers as they enter kindergarten, and in the long term, have a greater chance at success.