Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

A New Challenge for School Counselors: Children Who Are Homeless

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

A New Challenge for School Counselors: Children Who Are Homeless

Article excerpt

Typically, programs that prepare people in school

counseling offer courses and experiential work in areas such as theories and practices of counseling, organization and administration of school programs, and child counseling. This preparation, however adequate it may be to deal with counseling issues within the general school population, does not prepare the counselor to provide services to children who are homeless. Homelessness is a growing concern in the nation. In the United States, estimates of the number of adults who have been homeless at some point in their lives have ranged from 7 million to 12 million (National Coalition for the Homeless, 1998d). These estimates are significantly higher than previously reported, not only because of the growth of this population, but also because methods of counting this population have improved. The variability in these numbers can be attributed to the range of definitions of homelessness and methodologies for counting this population used from study to study (Jones, Levine, & Rosenberg, 1991) as well as the fact that people who are homeless often move from place to place or live in multiple family situations.

Families with children are the fastest growing group of persons who are homeless, comprising approximately 40% of this population (National Coalition for the Homeless, 1998c). More than 90% of these families are headed by a single female parent (National Coalition for the Homeless, 1996); and children constitute approximately one fourth of the homeless population (Ernst & Foscarinis, 1995; National Coalition for the Homeless, 1998a). Families with children who are homeless are a group for whom shelter and other needed services have been found to be lacking or unobtainable (Bassuk, Birk, & Liftik, 1994). The U.S. Conference of Mayors (1994) reported that the number of families with children requesting assistance from emergency food services increased 14% in one year and accounted for 64% of all people requesting assistance. The current population of homeless persons is diverse and includes men and women of all ages and ethnic groups, persons who have disabilities, persons who are chronically ill or abuse substances, and persons who are jobless or victims of domestic violence (Bassuk et al., 1994).

The leading cause of homelessness is poverty (National Coalition for the Homeless, 1998e), which most often affects families in their ability to obtain affordable housing and have adequate income for support. Despite the stereotype of the homeless person as an unemployed transient, surveys have found that at least 20% of homeless persons are employed (Waxman & Trupin, 1997). This suggests a continuum in the population of persons who are homeless ranging from those who have been on the street for some time to those who are one paycheck, illness, or accident away from losing their residence (National Coalition for the Homeless, 1998e).

They have limited economic resources to meet the demands of an inflated market in which the cost of food, clothing, and shelter has dramatically escalated, Pervasive unemployment and the lack of education and job skills compound their problems. Furthermore, entitlement programs often do not cover the cost of basic necessities and many eligible people are not enrolled. People still face the dilemma of choosing between paying rent and eating (Bassuk, et al., 1994, pp. 1-3).

In the 1995 report to Congress, the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) reported that of the school-age children and youth (ages 7-17) who were homeless, 57% were elementary students, 22% were junior high school students, 19% were high school students, and 2% were of unspecified grade level. Thirty-four percent were living with family or friends. The remainder were reported to five in privately funded shelters (21%); publicly funded shelters (22%); or other locations (24%) including welfare hotels, runaway shelters, shelters for battered women, campgrounds, parks, and abandoned buildings. …

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