Children of the foreclosure crisis

By Michelle Chen Feb 09, 2009

Will the wave of foreclosures now engulfing the country create a new homelessness crisis? The youngest victims are emerging: the children whose families and educational futures are suddenly uprooted as the housing market spirals into free-fall. Though comprehensive school enrollment data is not yet available, there are signs that communities are dealing with a new surge in homeless children. Many of the newly homeless seem to buck stereotypes: ordinary working families, dragged down by the foreclosure crisis, or forced out of their jobs. The advocacy organization First Focus recently issued some jarring estimates:

"17 percent of subprime loans originated in 2005 were to Latino homeowners, and 15 percent were to African-Americans. Applying these percentages to the 2.26 million homeowners suggests that 388,000 Latino homeowners, 344,000 black homeowners, and 1.53 million white/other homeowners will lose their homes to foreclosure.”

Combining those statistics with census data, we can project that the foreclosure crisis will impact 504,600 Latino children, 281,200 Black children and 1.17 million white/other children–a total approaching 2 million children. The Washington Post reports:

“Schools, often the first safety net for struggling families, are emerging as a key anchor for homeless youths. In addition to their legally required free breakfasts and lunches, many schools also offer tutoring, give out backpacks and clothes, and connect families with community services. In Manassas a social worker has arranged for homeless high school students to go early to shower. Alexandria schools pay taxi fare to get 13 homeless children to school; last year they paid for seven. “The federal government spends about $64 million a year to help homeless students. Some in Congress have proposed adding up to $70 million to that in an economic stimulus package. … “Students who had been homeless also were more likely to repeat a grade and missed more days of school. Educators say it helps homeless students to stay in one school. … “Many families don’t seek help because they don’t know it is available, don’t want to be labeled homeless or fear that their children will be taken away.”

All these issues—economic instability, barriers to education access, alienation from government institutions—resonate with problems and fears that have historically eroded the social fabric of poor communities of color. How will the new home losses and the disintegration of neighborhoods aggravate these stressors for children and families? The idea of more families living on the streets is especially troubling as a fiscal crunch threatens to undermine state school funding. Children are suffering the lessons of excess: everyday people’s aspirations toward upward mobility, exploited in the hype of the “ownership society,” are now producing the next era of homelessness in America. To learn more, check out Valeria Fernández’s article in the latest issue of Colorlines.