Homelessness Week: Children need stable shelter

This blog was created by the National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN) for National Homelessness Week (1-7 Aug). Also, watch our short 30-second clip on what kids are saying about homelessness.

For children, housing is more than just a home

In order to treat all Australian children fairly, we must ensure that every neighborhood in the country has safe and stable shelters for all.

We all agree that housing is about so much more than “having a roof over your head”; it’s about having a home.

In addition, evidence shows us that housing is at stake for children even more than having a home.

Housing is part of the ecosystem that shapes the health and future life of children and their relationships with the adults around them.

For all of us, home (or lack of one) can affect our health in many direct and indirect ways – some obvious and some not so obvious.

For example, homelessness poses clear risks to physical health and safety. Overcrowding often means interrupted sleep and a lack of privacy. Poorly maintained homes can cause respiratory diseases from mold and other toxins. Poorly located housing can make access to services, schools, jobs and transport difficult (or impossible). Being forced to move frequently can make it difficult to make friends and feel part of a community. Overall, living stress means spending less money on everything else we need for healthy living.

And for children – whose bodies and brains are still growing – these effects can be even more far-reaching and long-lasting.

Small everyday stresses are a healthy part of child development, but large stresses can have long-term effects on children’s brain development and physical health. Prolonged adversity – such as housing-related adversity – can put the body’s stress system on constant alert, flooding the body’s organs and brain with stress hormones. This response to “toxic stress” can interfere with healthy development and has been linked to future health problems such as depression, heart disease and diabetes.

When we address the toxic effects of housing stress, we help children build a strong foundation for life.

Also, when we reduce the burden on parents—by lowering housing costs—they have more capacity to maintain the nurturing relationships that are so important and indeed helpful buffer children from toxic stress.

Government policies can alleviate the most serious burdens on families by addressing poverty, affordable housing, and domestic and family violence (which is the leading cause of homelessness among women and children).

If we want healthy, vibrant, and prosperous communities, we must invest in stable homes for families and support all children now.

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