Alaska rates poorly on extent of child homelessness

Mike Dunham

Alaska ranks poorly in the percentage of children who are homeless, according to new national rankings released last week. "America's Youngest Outcast," a report by the Massachusetts-based non-profit National Center on Family Homelessness, placed Alaska 47th among the 50 states with regard to the extent of child homelessness.

The same report, however, placed Alaska in the middle of the states with regard to an overall rating in which other criteria were factored.

The center reported 7,272 homeless Alaskans age 18 or under living with a parent or guardian in 2010. The numbers in previous reports were 5,109 in 2008 and 5,864 in 2009. The numbers did not include runaways.

Other states at the bottom of the "extent of child homelessness" list included New York (45), California (46), Louisiana (48), Kentucky (49) and Oregon (50).

On the national scale, the report said one in 45 children is homeless in America, an increase of 38 percent since 2007. The authors attributed the rise to the ongoing economic recession, which it described as a "man-made disaster."

In addition to calculating the extent of child homelessness, the report also ranked the states for risk of homelessness based on various sociological factors such as each state's home foreclosure rate, income needed to rent a 2-bedroom apartment and minimum wage. Alaska fared much better in this category, ranking 11.

The report gave Alaska a "policy and planning" rank of 32, based on availability of housing for the homeless and state planning efforts among other factors.

Alaska's overall composite ranking was 28. The top-ranked states were Vermont, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and Maine. At the bottom of the list were California, Arizona, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama.

The trends given in the center's report were confirmed by David Mayo-Kiely of the Anchorage School District's Child in Transition program, which provides transportation and other services to homeless students.

"We've seen pretty steady increases," he said, noting a 15 percent increase in children served by the program from 2008 to 2009 and a 16 percent increase between 2009 and 2010.

The program grew more slowly between 2010 and 2011, he said, around 4 percent, but appears to have gone back into double digits since July, in the 11 to 12 percent range.

So far this year, Mayo-Kiely said, the ASD program has served 2,968 children. "That may go down as the year progresses," he said. "That's what happened in 2010-2011."

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Anchorage Daily News