The face of homelessness has changed, but our government policies have not. Today, about a quarter of the homeless in Vermont and across the country are children. According to a recent article in The New York Times, the number of children living on the streets or in temporary housing in New York City, and trying to go to school, has ballooned to 114 thousand.
Not surprisingly, homeless children often drop out of school or underachieve academically. In one study, just 12 percent of students living in shelters passed the New York State math exam.
Closer to home, some exemplary, nonprofit organizations like COTS and the Upper Valley Haven have programs to help homeless children do better in school – like providing after school programs not only for children currently living at the shelter but also children who used to live there. The Haven’s after school program strives to increase the confidence of these children, improve their skills and reduce their academic stress.
But clearly we need to do more. And the bottom line is that we need to provide these children with permanent housing. I witnessed a dramatic example of the relationship between housing and education when a young woman moved into affordable housing built by the organization I worked for in Boston and then finished first in her class at Boston Latin.
Many factors, like the high cost of housing, contribute to the growing population of homeless children, but I believe the fundamental issue is a lack of political will. So I was heartened when Elizabeth Warren recently introduced the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act in which she proposes that we invest $500 billion dollars, or $50 billion a year for ten years, to fund 3 million new, affordable homes. This legislation would not only alleviate homelessness but bring down rents in existing properties.
To pay for it, Senator Warren recommends that we return the federal estate tax to its 2009 levels. According to an outside study by Moody’s analytics, the resulting additional revenue would make the program deficit neutral, and would only affect the 10,000 wealthiest families.
It would also fulfill what I see as our moral responsibility, which is to provide decent homes for all of our children.