The most shocking statistic I have ever read reports that the average age of a homeless person in the United States is nine years old. Not nineteen or twenty-nine. You read correctly the first time. Nine.
Nine? Seriously? “In many ways, nine-year-olds are still young children; but they are becoming much more independent, and are developmentally mature enough to handle many responsibilities and situations with minimal adult intervention” (Katherine Lee, “Child Development: Your Nine-Year Old Child”). Nine-year-old children are on the brink of adolescence and rely upon their parents to understand the changes they can expect over the next few years. Their social circle is getting larger and many enjoy group activities with peers. Most nine-year-old boys are 5’4” tall, while the average nine-year-old girl weighs 60 pounds.
Typically, nine-year-old children do not spend their time worrying about their mom’s inability to pay the rent, keep food in the house, or keep the family car running. Further, nine-year-olds do not normally get off the school bus and walk three blocks out of their way just to keep the other kids on the bus from knowing that they live at a homeless shelter. Most nine-year-olds have never curled up in the back seat of the family car with their younger sister while their mother stays awake all night to make sure no one harms her family.
For the first time in our history, including after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, more children than ever are falling asleep without a place to call home. According to a report created by The National Center on Family Homelessness (America’s Youngest Outcasts, December 2011), one out of every 45 children in the United States is homeless. That represents 1.6 million children. The majority of these children are under the age of nine.
Like the child who walked three blocks out of his way so the others wouldn’t know he was going home to a shelter, homeless children are invisible to most. “Without a bed to call their own, these children have lost safety, privacy, and the comforts of home, as well as their friends, possessions, pets, reassuring routines and communities” (America’s Youngest Outcasts, December 2011).
I am not sure what is more disheartening: to be a nine-year-old homeless child or to be invisible. What I do know is that Transitional Living Centers of Oklahoma (TLC) is committed to providing a home and a future for homeless families. No child should ever have to long for a bed, food, or safety. Since opening our doors in February 2010, more than 65 children have called Lindsey House home. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the TLC Board of Directors, volunteers, and staff, these children have experienced the love and respect of a community that demands better than average for its children.