Almost 2.5 million or 1 in 30 children were homeless in the United States last year, a historic high, according to “America’s Youngest Outcasts,” a new report by The National Center on Family Homelessness.

The number of children experiencing homelessness annually in the U.S. increased by 8 percent nationally, according to the report, and increased in 31 states and the District of Columbia.

“The increase is alarming,” said Dr. Carmela DeCandia, director of the Center.  “I hope the report brings attention to the problem so decisive action can be taken to address this problem.”

Among states with the worst records of homeless children were Alabama, Mississippi and California; among the best were Massachusetts, Nebraska and Minnesota.

According to the report, the major contributing factors to homelessness for children in the U.S. are the nation’s high poverty rate, a dearth of affordable housing, continuing impacts of the Great Recession, racial disparities, the challenges of single parenting and the lingering effects of traumatic experiences, especially domestic violence.

Those issues are compounded by a lack of attention to and investment into mitigating the problem, Dr. DeCandia said. “Over the years, child and family homelessness has not been a national priority. Resources have not been directed at the level needed,” she told the AFRO.

“The typical profile of a homeless family is a single mother in her 20s with two children. The majority of homeless children, 51 percent, areunder age 6, so these are typically young families. Mothers often have limited education and job opportunities, and are often making minimum wage which is not enough to afford a two bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States,” DeCandia continued. “Considering these disparities, combined with the lack of attention and resources, it is no surprise the numbers have continued to increase.”

The implications of the trend for the future of the affected families and the nation are dire, DeCandia said. “Adverse experiences in early childhood effect long-term development. Homeless children are often sick more often, hungry more often, and experience developmental, learning, and social-emotional problems,” she said. “Many homeless children struggle in school, missing days, repeating grades, and drop out entirely. Up to 25 percent of homeless pre-school children have mental health problems requiring clinical evaluation; this increases to 40 percent among homeless school-age children.

“Children can’t wait. Their very development is at risk if we don’t act now.”

For a copy of the report, visit: http://new.homelesschildrenamerica.org/