SOC 350 blog post – Child homelessness in New Bedford

Child homelessness in New Bedford

Authors: Jessica Jorge, Carmelle Phillipe, Michaela Mello,students in Professor Gloria de Sa’s SOC/ANT 350, ‘Urban Issues in Public Policy’ (learn more about their collaboration with the UI by reading this post)


Homelessness is experienced by children, families and adults with or without disabilities. Homelessness affects all people whether they are homeless themselves or know of someone who has become homeless. Although homelessness can affect all people it occurs disproportionately among people of color. Our research specifically concentrated on children and their education. Being a homeless child, it can have a great impact on a child’s performance and education. As a result a homeless child is less likely to be successful in their studies. This was our hypothesis that we developed in order to help us achieve a better understanding to our main research question; “What is it like to be a homeless child going to school?”

In order to answer this question, we also came up with sub-questions to better understand the issues of child homelessness. These sub-questions included:

  • How is homelessness defined?
  • Who experiences homelessness?
  • What is the homeless population like in New Bedford?
  • How did these children become homeless?
  • How does being homeless affect a child’s education and learning?
  • How are their families affected as a whole?

The research methods we used to answer these questions were interviews, observations, archival research, and data analysis. Through these approaches, we were able to gain insight into the issue of child homelessness. It also helped us to answer our research questions as we were able to see how a child is affected by homelessness and the impact that homelessness has on a child’s education.

Below is an example of some of the data we used in developing answers for our research question. There are a total of fourteen middle and high schools in New Bedford. Of those schools we were able to compare the differences between the school, district and state. We concentrated on three of the most known schools; Keith Middle School, Roosevelt Middle School and New Bedford High School. The graph below is just one of the graphs we used for Keith Middle School. The data we found we were able to use and analyze the differences in the percentages of those with limited English proficiency, low income and students in special education. The low income percentage for each schools where extremely high which we found crucial to our findings of our overall research to why the dropout rates and homelessness is extremely high in New Bedford.

child homelessnessThis data represents the risk behaviors and different factors that can affect a student in school and the comparison between students who are homeless and who are not. In the Protective factors section on the graph (below) we see that homeless students do not receive the necessary help and support as do housed students. Risk behaviors shows that homeless students develop a higher risk for drug abuse and gang violence. This was another important finding that helps us show the many influences that can affect a student’s education and the negative effects for a homeless student as well.

child homelessness2Below is also some data analysis that we found helpful for our research:

  • In the 2012-2013 school year, 432 students in the New Bedford Public Schools were homeless
  • This equals 3.4% of the school district
  • This is double the state percentage (1.7%)
  • In the United States, 1 in 45 children are considered homeless
  • Child and Family Homelessness is considered an “escalating crisis” and an “epidemic” but data is difficult to obtain because the homeless population is largely considered “invisible”

There are multiple definitions of homelessness; federal, state, McKinney-Vento or a person’s personal opinion. They all have one thing in common, that the realization that homelessness affects everyone and it has a great impact on a community.

Through the findings of our project, we were able to see that homeless children have many educational disadvantages compared to children who are housed. We stress the concept of more public policies for the issue of homeless children and families. There are many things that can be done to help and support these homeless children however without the public policies to be enforced there would be no change. Support services that enhance and expand the academic environment for children, like Horizons for Homeless Children, is needed to give extra support to children who are homeless. Children who are homeless need more academic support than children who are not homeless because they not only face struggles in their academics but they also face emotional, physical and social issues. It is necessary to implement educational programs into homeless shelters in order to end the cycle of homelessness for children.

Homelessness is not a choice or an option.Homelessness can be a temporary or a lifetime living situation. Improving public policies would provide more programs which focus on kids who are homeless. Another idea is a program which can guide the parents of homeless children to help improve their living situation and focus more on education. Another concept would be similar to the no child left behind act but by having homeless children survivors become mentors to those who are currently in shelters or homeless. Limitations to our project was not being able to survey as much children as we would like. That limitation did not hinder us from finding an exceptional amount of information to strengthen our findings.

This project has contributed to our academic/professional growth because it has allowed us to do research on a global issue but narrow it down to a neighborhood such as New Bedford. Researching homelessness within a local neighborhood has opened doors of awareness of how we can make change possible. Knowing the impact on what homelessness can do to a child has allowed us to know that we can be a helping hand as well. Academically the research has enhanced our interpersonal skills with one another and our researching skills to reach out to programs like Fall River Family Center and Horizons for Homeless Children which allow us to know about resources which we can refer to students of New Bedford.

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