By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The number of students experiencing homelessness in America’s public schools is at an all-time high.
In Philadelphia, a local nonprofit group today released a report on how homelessness affects children in our area.
The new report, from the People’s Emergency Center shows that during 2012 more than 9,000 children, from infant to age 17, spent at least on night in the Pennsylvania emergency shelter system.
This number represents is a slight decrease from the year before.
“That can be a child who is accompanying a parent that has left their primary home because of domestic violence or because of a crisis, like a displacement due to fire or where a family has been sleeping on the couches of family and friends and need a place to get stable,” says Farrah Jimenez, president and CEO of PEC.
Jimenez says even temporary homelessness can have a negative impact on kids.
“It can interrupt education — they are generally moving from school to school, but generally not with the academic calendar,” she says. “We also see that a lot of our young children experience trauma. Obviously if the experience is traumatic for adults and it puts them in crisis housing, it is harder on children who are less able to process what is happening to them.”
PEC helps children get mental health evaluations for anxiety and other issues resulting from homelessness. She says the good news is that after the children become stable, many of the mental health issues disappear.
For nine-year-old Delonte, six weeks without stable housing was so stressful he could barely talk about it without showing emotion.
“It was terrible,” he said, as tears rolled down his face.
Delonte’s mother, Aleysha, says they became homeless three months ago. She says she and her son started out living with a family member, but the situation became dangerous so they had to leave.
“Luckily, I had a good friend who let us stay with them,” she says, “but it was all the way in North Philly. His school is here in West Philly, so we had to get someplace more stable.”
Aleysha says she went into “panic mode,” calling shelters across the city for emergency housing. She says it took several weeks before she could find stable housing.
“My first priority was my son,” says Aleysha. “I washed his clothes out by hand and my friend — my good friend — made sure we had something to eat. It may not have been much, but we had something.”
Six weeks ago, Aleysha and Delonte moved into transitional housing at PEC. Now she’s back in school, working on a bachelor’s degree in business administration, and things are more stable.
“We get to eat meals — they are hot in the morning and at dinner,” she says. “It’s (no longer) like, ‘I have three dollars, what are we going to eat, how are we going to eat?’ ”
PEC is holding a discussion today on its research, featuring Dr. Staci Perlman, PEC’s 2013 visiting scholar and an assistant professor at the University of Delaware; and Dr. Mary Haskett, of North Carolina State University. For more on this event, go to pec-cares.org.