Report ranks AZ 1st for risk of child homelessness

Published: Nov. 17, 2014 at 10:25 PM MST|Updated: Dec. 1, 2014 at 10:25 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Arizona has more homeless children than most every other state in the U.S.

The findings of a new report card from the National Center on Family Homelessness rank Arizona 45th overall. The state is also low on the well-being of children.

However, Arizona does better when it comes to policy and planning, and how we're addressing the problem.

The recession hit Arizona hard.

Plus, Arizona already had a high poverty rate and a lot of low-paying jobs.

Many families are homeless or on the brink while the number of homeless children in America is at an all-time high.

Marcela is at Youth on their Own, a nonprofit agency that provides food, clothing and other necessities to help homeless youth stay in high school and graduate.

"I felt like I was alone. I felt like no one cared," Marcela said. "And it does hurt."

The new report is titled "America's Youngest Outcasts." Some are homeless and on their own while others are with their families.

"The reality is the majority of people who experience homelessness are families and these are families with children," Our Family Services Executive Director Patti Caldwell said.

Our Family Services focuses on reducing homelessness. Caldwell said no one entity can end child homelessness on its own; It takes nonprofits, government and communities.

"The reality is that we have insufficiently invested in the kinds of services that would prevent child homelessness," she said. "Other states are making an investment in families, are ensuring that there are the kind of jobs that pay living wages, that there's the kind of housing that's available that is truly affordable for families."

"It's critically important that people talk to their elected officials about what those elected officials are doing to stop poverty, to solve poverty and to solve child homelessness," Caldwell says. "Where are they putting their priorities. Where are they investing the dollars that they do have control over. In addition, it would be great if everyone who could got involved with a local non-profit and expanded the reach of those non-profits to serve people." 

Heather Basiliere and her husband struggle to make ends meet. They worry about their two sons and how close their family is to being on the street.

She says if they were to lose their home, it would be very hard on the children. 

"They don't understand why we're struggling like we are. And it's hard to explain to two little boys that are two and six how to go about life being on the street or being without clothes or new shoes like everybody else has. So yeah. It gets hard."

Heather knows that fear. When she was 15, her father died. She became homeless, living in abandoned buildings when there was no place else to go.

Heather says she's legally blind, and that made life that much harder when you're homeless.

"It feels sad. It feels lonely. You feel like, 'What did you do wrong in your life?'" Heather said.

Marcela said Youth on Their Own and those who support it give her hope. She said no one should ever give up on a child.

"Maybe that homeless kid can change something later on. Maybe they can become something. Maybe they can improve things that they never had. You never know."

See the study done by the National Center on Family Homelessness here

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