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San Francisco has one of the highest percentages of people living on the streets of any major city in the United States.  Even though there has been a recent reduction in homeless rates both nationally and locally, experts agree that San Francisco’s known homeless population still totals 5,000 to 8,000 people, with many others going uncounted.

The most visible segment is the “chronically” homeless – or individuals who live on the streets for long periods of time and usually have addiction or mental health problems.  So it surprises many people to learn that up to 25% of San Francisco’s homeless population consists of families with children.  Sadly, this is a national trend: while the overall number of homeless people in the United States is on the decline, children and families make up the fastest growing segment of our country’s homeless population.  Right now there are more homeless children in the United States than at any other time since the Great Depression.  At Compass, we are providing services to up to 300 or 400 children and their parents on any given day.

Why isn’t family homelessness a more visible problem?

Most of San Francisco’s homeless families do not live on the street, and if they do, their children may be removed from their custody by Child Protective Services.  Rather, most homeless families are transient, living in shelters, cars, in cheap by-the-night hotels in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, or staying temporarily with friends or family members.  Many would not be recognizable as “homeless” to a casual passer-by.

What are the causes of family homelessness?

Many of the same factors that contribute to homelessness among individuals also affect families.  The vast majority of the parents we serve at Compass have low levels of education, plus a history of mental health problems, addiction, domestic violence, incarceration, or other trauma.  Most have struggled with homelessness and poverty for many years, if not their whole lives.  And nearly all the parents we serve have faced abuse during some time in their life, whether it’s physical abuse, domestic violence, or sexual abuse.

In addition to these long-term challenges that many families face, the San Francisco Bay Area is simply an expensive place to live.  Consider the following statistics, and the effects that family homelessness has on children.

What are the  effects of homelessness on children?

  • More than half of children from homeless families have never lived in a permanent home, and most experience multiple upheavals each year.  (Bay Area Foundation Advisory Group to End Homelessness)
  • Homeless children are sick and hungry twice as often as non-homeless children.  (Bay Area Foundation Advisory Group to End Homelessness)
  • Nearly 70% of homeless children suffer from chronic illness.  Almost 50% have emotional problems such as anxiety and depression.  (Better Homes Fund – W.K. Kellogg Foundation)
  • Homeless children experience developmental delays at four times the rate of other children.  (Bay Area Foundation Advisory Group to End Homelessness)
  • Homeless children are twice as likely to repeat a grade in school, and are significantly more likely not to finish high school.  (Institute for Children and Poverty)

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