When we think about homelessness in America, we tend to think of single adult males living under a bridge or in a shelter. They may suffer from a mental illness or drug or alcohol addictions. However, increasingly the single adult male is no longer the only face of homelessness in this country.

A recent New York Times Editorial highlights that the number of homeless families has increased significantly over the past few years. According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, families now make up 34% of the homeless population in the United States.

The recent economic downturn has resulted in numerous families being forced to live in temporary housing situations such as emergency shelters, transitional housing programs, motels, “doubled-up” in houses of family or friends, and even in their cars. According to a report to Congress by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) last June, the number of homeless families that have turned to shelters increased by 20% from 2007 to 2010.

What is even more startling is that these homeless families do not even represent all of the homeless children and youth in our society. While there are 1.5 million homeless children living with a parent or caregiver, there are also 575,000 to 1.6 million unaccompanied homeless youth aged 16 to 22 living on their own on the streets or in a temporary housing situation.

When children and youth find themselves homeless, their well-being is significantly affected. They are more likely to have poor academic performance, suffer from worse overall physical health, and are two times more likely to experience hunger when compared to children with permanent, stable housing.

November is National Homelessness Awareness Month and should remind us that family and child homelessness is a growing problem in need of urgent action. We need to establish and maintain programs that will provide a safety net to families at-risk of homelessness and keep them in their home. For families and children who are already homeless, it is imperative that they are able to access affordable housing, an education, and additional supportive services as needed.

Stay tuned next week for additional information on homeless families and children and what you can do to address this growing crisis.