According to recent estimates, there are about 108 million Nigerians technically homeless. Often discernible from others in outward appearance, homeless children and youth face unique challenges associated with residential instability that compound many other difficulties associated with living in poverty. In this article, we shall look at how homelessness affects children
What Is Homelessness?
Homelessness includes a range of experiences, from living in a shelter to living out of a car. Homelessness is “a lack of fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” This includes temporary accommodations like shelters, transitional housing, or welfare hotels, and public or private places not intended for human habitation.
The definition also includes “doubling up” or sharing housing with others.
With a population of about 190 million people, it will surprise you to note that more than 100 million Nigerians are technically homeless and this number includes children. That is a bit more than the population of Egypt and just less than the population of earthquake ravaged Mexico
This is indeed a growing concern.
Contrary to popular conceptions, most homeless minors are part of a family. However, a small minority of homeless children and youth are on their own, unaccompanied by an adult. Some have run away from home and others have been forced to leave by family members or guardians. Many feel they cannot return home due to ongoing conflicts with their families.
Homeless children and youth experience many of the same recurrent stresses as their peers from low-income families with fixed housing. This overlap in experiences makes it difficult to tease out which outcomes can be distinctly attributed to homelessness and which are part of living in poverty regardless of one’s housing situation.
However, there are some distinct aspects of child homelessness, especially: Residential Instability
Homelessness often involves repeated moves, short stays in multiple locations, temporary stays under the bridge and stays in crowded or cramped accommodations. Children and youth who endure this mobility often face severe stress, which can have implications for emotional and physical health.
For those who live in slums and shanties, they might just be homeless even before the government comes with their bulldozers to go on a demolition spree as is the case in Lagos Island.
For the few homeless children who are opportune to attend school, they often face psychological and social isolation, which has been shown to affect school performance. They may feel stigmatized because of their unstable housing situation and related stress factors.
Homeless students also change schools more than housed students, which can lead to lower school achievement and increased risk of dropout.
Also, health outcomes are worse for homeless children and youth than for their low-income peers with a home. Homeless children are often malnourished, food insecure, and lack access to adequate health care or no health care at all.
Homeless children face chronic stress, violence, or victimization. Lack of affordable housing is a contributing factor to homelessness is a lack of affordable housing.
Furthermore, it is a proven fact that no household with a single breadwinner earning the minimum wage in Nigeria can afford the average local rent for a self-contained apartment.
A lack of affordable housing is exacerbated by rising rent costs, a growing proportion of renting households, and stagnant wage growth. Nigeria has a housing deficit of over 17 million units which lays credence to the housing crisis the nation is facing and the homelessness that plagues a huge portion of her population.
Challenges associated with lack of affordable housing can be compounded by an already precarious economic situation.
Eviction both causes and intensifies the instability that can lead to homelessness, and households with children are particularly at risk. Research shows that neighborhoods with a higher percentage of children experience more evictions.
On the other hand, many women and children become homeless because they are fleeing domestic violence, and a high proportion of unaccompanied youth experience or witness emotional, physical, and sexual abuse before running away from home.