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Homelessness among Michigan’s children: The problem is far larger, and more diverse, than you think

Daily Kos

More than 15,000 of Michigan’s very young children, from newborns to 4-year-olds, are homeless. There are Michigan babies living in cars; toddlers sleeping on blankets on floors; and preschoolers being shuttled from one relative’s, or friend’s, or total stranger’s couch to another.

Expand the age range and the tragedy only grows larger. According to the University of Michigan’s 2018 “Child Homelessness in Michigan” study, more than 36,000 of Michigan’s elementary-, middle-, and high-schoolers don’t have “a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.”

And while the word “homeless” tends to bring up certain assumptions about what the people involved look like or the neighborhoods where they’re fighting to find a stable home, childhood homelessness defies many of those stereotypes. In wealthy Oakland County, for example, 1% of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers—more than 3,000 children—don’t have a place to call home.

According to the Michigan League for Public Policy’s June 2019 “Homelessness in Early Childhood” report, it’s true that more than 75% of Michigan’s very young homeless children live in urban areas. “However,” the report continues, “children are about twice as likely to experience homelessness during their first four years of life if they are living in a rural or midsize county.”

In three very rural (and very white) Michigan counties (Alger, Arenac, and Lake), from 11% to 13% of very young children are without a home. The University of Michigan’s study of school-age children facing homelessness found that “In 12 school districts serving fewer than 1,400 students, between 1-in-7 and 1-in-4 students experienced homelessness during the school year.”

The problem is also much larger than the League’s report suggests.

[...] To calculate their estimate that 15,565 very young children in Michigan are homeless, Ostyn and researchers from the League, Kids Count Michigan, and the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions Program extrapolated from the percentage of first-grade Michiganders who are known to be without a place to live. “There’s not one single system that captures [the data about] this issue for this age group,” Ostyn explained. One thing the researchers do know, though, are the factors that come together to cause a situation where babies are sleeping in cars or on couches. Those issues range from jobs that don’t pay a living wage, to the lack of affordable housing in many areas, to overtaxed and underfunded public services that can be spread out over a wide area and difficult to access in communities without public transportation. (Michigan ranks a dismal 27th out of all 50 states according to the 2019 AllTransit Performance Score, judged on a combination of public transit connectivity, access to jobs, and frequency of service.)

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