One out of every 60 K-12 students in Massachusetts is homeless, according to a new survey from the state Department of Education.
The number of homeless children identified across the Bay State — 15,812 in total — is the highest number ever found in the survey’s nine-year history. Many of these children spend their nights in non-permanent refuges, including shelters and motels.
The fact that so many Massachusetts are now homeless, five years after the financial crisis first hit, is largely due to massive federal budget cuts that kicked in recently, especially sequestration.
Sequestration slashed housing assistance and other related programs for the poor by more than $2 billion this year. Millions of low-income Americans rely on the Section 8 voucher system to help them afford rent, particularly in pricey areas like Boston. However, this year the housing voucher program will face its largest funding shortfall on record. As a result, 140,000 families in total are expected to lose federal assistance paying rent, forcing many onto the streets.
In an effort to combat these cuts, Massachusetts increased its affordable housing budget by $15 million, a laudable move that won’t come anywhere close to covering sequestration’s cuts.
As shameful as chronic homelessness is in general, children living in abject poverty has a unique way of offending our collective conscience, with good reason. A study released last month found that poverty has virtually the same effect on the brain as regularly pulling all-nighters. The study concluded that the strain of living in poverty can lower a person’s IQ by as much as 13 percent. Other research has linked the stress piled on children living in poverty and neurological impairment.
In other words, as children develop through their formative years, poverty and homelessness significantly hinders their chance of escaping the cycle of poverty. For thousands of Massachusetts children, what’s done can’t be undone.