Homelessness & Children

Homelessness & Children
Family Advocacy Project – ESP772 – 1001
Summer 2018 – Joe Bustillos

I created this post as part of a Master’s level course at UNLV that I took for my Nevada teacher credential. The research was inspired by the recent child separation dilemma created by poor policy decisions. Please feel free to ask questions or comments at the bottom of the page.

Beneath the Neon
In 2002 Las Vegas CityLife Editor, Matthew O’Brien, heard that a murderer had evaded police by using the miles of storm tunnels running under the city. He assigned a journalist to investigate, but soon found himself exploring the pitch black tunnels, which led to the discovery…

In the 16-years since his first wanderings down below, O’Brien has become good friends with the residents, written a couple articles and a book that’s gotten some attention, and in 2009 he started a community non-profit called Shine-a-Light to help the people living down there.(13)

As of January 2015 – Nationwide Numbers:

564,708 Homeless Nationwide(1)
23% or 127,787 of all Homeless are children under the age of 18(1)
9% or 52,973 of all Homeless are between the ages of 18 and 24(1)
68% or 383,968 are 25 years or older (1)
1/3 : number of homeless youth who engage in survival sex(3)
50% : percentage of youth in shelters and on the streets nationwide who reported that their parents either told them to leave or knew they were leaving but did not care(4)
80% : percentage of runaway and homeless girls nation-wide who reported having been sexually or physically abused(5)
6 – 12 times : increased likelihood of runaways becoming infected with HIV vs. non-runaways(6)

NPHY Stories: Carmella:

Starting at age fourteen, Carmella was beaten by her father. It all started when he lost his job and began taking his anger out on her. One day, while doing homework at her family’s computer, Carmella’s father hit her with a metal pole in the foot, shattering her bones. Unable to live with the abuse anymore, she ran away. On a broken foot, she hobbled four miles to her grandmother’s house, but her grandmother turned her away. She managed to spend one night at her boyfriend’s house before his parents kicked her out. A friend who had heard about it in school told Carmella about Safe Place and, with nowhere left to turn, she packed all of her belongings into a garbage bag and limped to the nearest Terrible Herbst Safe Place site. On her way to the gas station, her bag ripped and all of her earthly possessions scattered across the road. On a broken foot, she managed to gather her things and make it to the Terrible Herbst, where she was picked up by NPHY’s Outreach Manager. Carmella was given medical attention and taken to NPHY’s Drop-In Center, where she was given basic needs items, and then to NPHY’s Emergency Shelter, where she was given a warm bed and a roof over her head. Within one week, Carmella was enrolled in NPHY’s full-time Independent Living Program. With NPHY’s help, Carmella is currently stable, working a part-time job and attending veterinary school to fulfill her dreams. In her own words, “If this place wasn’t here, I’d probably be on the street. I really thought it was over for me. That’s it. I’m a bum on the streets. They did so much for me, and I want to tell everyone I came from the streets to Safe Place.”(14)

Nevada, Southern Nevada & Unaccompanied Homeless Children/Youth:

30,016 Homeless in Southern Nevada(2)
23,790 : number of homeless children in Nevada in 2012 – 2013(7)
11,253 : number of homeless youth enrolled in Clark County schools in 2014—2015(8)
2,232 : number of unaccompanied homeless children and youth living on the streets or in homeless shelters in Southern Nevada on an average day in 2015(9)
4th : the State of Nevada’s nationwide ranking for the prevalence of unaccompanied homeless children and youth residing in our state in 2014(10)
1st : the State of Nevada’s nationwide ranking for the rate of unaccompanied homeless children and youth living unsheltered on our streets in 2014(11)
82% Unsheltered Unaccompanied Youth – State ranked 1st(12)

NPHY Stories: Javier:

Growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania, Javier was nervous to disclose his sexuality to his mother, but, in ninth grade, he worked up the courage and came out to his mom as gay. She was unaccepting, insisting that he “work on not being gay” and banning him from activities outside of school. After enduring daily bullying at school and an unwelcome environment at home, at age 17, Javier approached his mother and asked her to finally accept him for who he was. She promptly replied that Javier “won’t be gay in this house” and kicked him out.

With nowhere else to turn, Javier bought a one-way plane ticket to Las Vegas to try to connect with his father’s side of the family; his mother and father had divorced when Javier was an infant and he had never met his father’s relatives before. His aunt and cousin invited him to stay with them and he moved into their house, thinking that he had finally found a welcoming place to call home. However, after three days of living together, Javier’s aunt revealed that she was also “uncomfortable” with Javier’s sexuality and told him that he was no longer welcome to live with them. Shocked and unprepared, Javier spent that night sleeping outside on the sidewalk.

The next day, Javier found free wi-fi access at a local fast food restaurant and searched for help on the Internet. Through the web, Javier learned about NPHY and called NPHY’s Safe Place hotline. The hotline dispatcher explained to him how to get to the nearest Terrible Herbst, where he was met by an NPHY Crisis Responder and transported to NPHY’s Drop-In Center to meet with a case manager and receive further resources. An undocumented immigrant who was brought to the United States when he was an infant by his parents, Javier was unable to work legally, making NPHY’s services even more critical for his survival. Javier stayed in NPHY’s Emergency Shelter, where he was given a roof over his head, food, clothing, and other resources, and soon moved into NPHY’s full-time Independent Living Program. Since enrolling in NPHY’s transitional housing program, with NPHY’s help, Javier has earned his high school diploma, received work authorization through the DACA program, and is currently working in the fashion industry and preparing for college In Javier’s own words: “When I found NPHY, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, that there was help for me. NPHY has completely changed my life.”(14)

Final Facts:
Why Are Families Homeless?

  • Lack of Affordable Housing
  • Poverty
  • Domestic Violence

What Are the Experiences of Homeless Children?

  • Experiences of Violence
  • Physical Health
  • Mental Health
  • Developmental Milestones and Academic Performance

What Can I Do?

By working together, we can end family homelessness in America.

You can help by:

  • Volunteering with local community organizations working to end family homelessness.
  • Supporting local, state, and national programs that help families out of poverty.
  • Considering issues of poverty, affordable housing, violence prevention, and health care when determining who earns our vote in local, state, and federal elections.
  • Donating to organizations such as the National Center on Family Homelessness and others that are working to end homelessness in our country.
  • Educating others about the extent and causes of family homelessness and what to do about it.

Where Can I learn More?

The National Center on Family Homelessness has extensive resources on homelessness, particularly concerning families. Visit our website to learn more: www.familyhomelessness.org. You also may want to visit the Homelessness Resource Center: www.homeless.samhsa.gov, operated by our sister organization, the Center for Social Innovation.(15)

Project Reflection:

Six-years after I had moved clear across the country to teach at a Florida university I was laid off, and a year later I had to sell my house. Except for the kindness of a couple of friends, I would have ended up homeless. I got through that year of couch surfing but the whole experience tore my confidence to shreds. Even after getting a great job at CCSD (and moving back across the country) I recognize that I still have a hard time not anticipating the worst as far as keeping my job and not going through the whole thing of losing everything again. I cannot imagine what such an experience would do to a child, and that’s why I picked this for my advocacy project. I was also inspired by the recent Zero Tolerance Policy that resulted in refugee families have their children torn from them and the damage that these experiences are doing to the families, parents and children.

One statistic that jumped out to me was that an estimated one-quarter of the homeless population nationwide are unaccompanied children and unaccompanied youth. What might have been dismissed as a “run-away” problem in previous generations, that was only experienced by the poor or lower levels of society, has been shown to currently be a much larger problem. Another thing that jumped out at me is that many support/advocacy organizations really believe that homelessness for children and youth can be eliminated. I had previously approached the subject of homelessness in general as something that cannot be solved. Heck, it’s even in the Bible: “The poor you will always have with you…” (Matt 26: 11), so I never really considered the problem fixable. A lot of attitudes about society’s role in helping the poor will need to be addressed, but if we can eliminate worldwide issues like small pox, or malaria, then we should be able to eliminate homelessness. It may take many generations and it certainly won’t be perfect, but there’s so much that we could do to address these sorts of problems (homelessness, poverty, hunger).

The things that I’m thinking about, as far as actions I can take address more my practice as a teacher in a low-SES neighborhood and Title 1 school, than the subject of homelessness directly. One thing that I can do to improve my practice is to improve communication with my students’ families. As the technology/STEAM teacher I see every single of our school’s students, so that presents a special problem that I share with the music and PE teachers, but none of the other teach-ing staff. I’m about to begin my third year teaching at this school and I need to find the most effective way to create back-and-forth communication with my students’ families.

This summer I invited students who are going to be 3-, 4-, or 5-graders in the Fall, who are interested in participating in our FIRST Robotics team, to register at a website I created and do assignments over the Summer. This was supposed to begin just when our ESP772 course began, June 4th. Over the past month I have received zero sign-ups. Zero, zilch, nada, none… So, assuming that my families can login to a website… didn’t quite work out. So, I have to find a way to make connections that works with their comfort-zone, etc. A website didn’t get it done this past month.

Somewhat related, for my second action area, I’m thinking that I might try to enlist students to create a journalism club where they can cover local stories and create news items that we can post on our school website. I know, another website, but because it’s student-created it’s more likely to generate family traffic and increase student interest and engagement. Anything to promote and foster the school community that might help the larger local community, covering issues like homelessness, is something worthy of trying. And just the need to reach-out to my students’ families to keep them in the loop and let them know what we’re studying in the lab this week is some-thing that I can do better.

I’ve been so inspired by the examples and challenges my classmates engage in in working with special needs students. The class has really helped me rethink what I can do to improve communication and better service my students.


  1. Bitfocus (2016). 2016 Southern Nevada – Homeless Census & Survey Comprehensive Report. Las Vegas, NV. p.4
  2. Bitfocus (2016). 2016 Southern Nevada – Homeless Census & Survey Comprehensive Report. Las Vegas, NV. p.20
  3. National Network for Youth
    4, 5, 6. National Runaway Safeline
  4. National Center on Family Homelessness’ America’s Youngest Outcasts: State Report Card on Child Homelessness in Nevada 2013
  5. CCSD Title I HOPE (Homeless Outreach Program for Education)
  6. 2015 Southern Nevada Homeless Census & Survey Comprehensive Report
    10 & 11. U.S. Housing & Urban Development’s 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress
  7. Cook-Craig, Guthrie, Sousa, Craig, Bruner, Tudor, Word, Jacobowitz(2017). The State of Youth Homelessness in Southern Nevada. Las Vegas, NV: UNLV: College of Urban Affairs.
  8. O’Brien, Matthew. Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas. Images: http://beneaththeneon.com/beneath-the-neon/
  9. Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth (NPHY). Client Stories. http://www.nphy.org/what-we-do/client-stories/
  10. The National Center on Family Homelessness (2011). The Characteristics and Needs of Families Experiencing Homelessness. Needham, MA: Family Homelessness.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.