Hundreds of thousands of American children are homeless—living in housing shared with other families, homeless shelters, motels, cars, or on the street—while the tools that would help them gather dust on the shelf.
Nearly 1.4 million children experienced homelessness at some point during the 2016-2017 school year. On a single night in 2018, more than 107,000 children in more than 56,000 families were homeless. Almost six million more children live in low-income families facing unsustainably high rents, placing them at greater risk of becoming homeless at some point.
We know how to solve this problem: A HUD study showed that long-term housing subsidies reduced the proportion of families that were homeless or doubled-up in the previous six months by 50 percent and reduced the proportion of families who experienced a shelter stay by 75 percent.
Unfortunately, 77 percent of families with children who are eligible to receive long-term federal housing subsidies get no help at all because housing-assistance programs are so deeply underfunded. This problem is getting worse because inadequate year-to-year funding means the number of families getting housing assistance is actually falling.
In all, about 17 million low-income renters in the United States spend more than half their income on housing and get no help from the government—about one third of them are children.
In our Ending Child Poverty Now report, CDF modeled what would happen if the largest federal housing assistance program—the Housing Choice Voucher program—were dramatically expanded to meet the needs of everyone eligible for assistance.
We found that of the nine anti-poverty policy changes we modeled, expanding housing vouchers was the single most effective thing we can do to fight child poverty. On its own, this change would reduce child poverty by 22 percent. Such an investment would also go a long way toward eradicating child homelessness.
We know the voucher program keeps children from becoming homeless, but we leave three quarters of the potential benefit on the table due to massive underfunding. It’s time to fully fund the voucher program.