Available literature demonstrates that vulnerable and socially excluded persons, including the homeless, are exposed to more health issues and challenges than the general population, and hence require targeted health services to address these challenges (Maurer & Smith, 2009). Poverty, domestic violence, and lack of affordable housing are acknowledged as the three principal reasons that lead to homelessness, not only in the United States but also globally. Homeless children residing in shelters suffer more health, educational and developmental challenges than housed children, with available statistics demonstrating that the rate of ear infection in this vulnerable group of the population is 50% higher than the general population (Nunez, 2000).
Conceivably, many homeless children experience mental illnesses and emotional challenges at an extremely higher rate than housed children. Consecutive research studies demonstrate that homeless children not only demonstrate elevated levels of stress and anxiety, but also suffer from depression, behavioral challenges and severe academic delay (Buckner, 2008; Maurer & Smith, 2009). Homeless children develop these negative emotional, behavioral and academic dispensations due to encounters with traumatic life events, including domestic violence and child abuse, but also due to the harsh living conditions in the homeless shelters. However, it should be noted that these dispensations explain the high prevalence of mental illnesses among homeless children (Maurer & Smith, 2009).
It is indeed true that homeless children with mental illnesses have limited chances of escaping homelessness due to the already mentioned conditions and challenges that keep them in a vicious cycle of hopelessness, poverty, dependency and instability. Depression and anxiety, for instance, ensure that the children are emotionally drained to look for new possibilities in life, while severe academic delay hurts their potential of moving up the academic ladder to success. The negative behavioral orientation internalized by these children, alongside naked exhibitions of aggression triggered by painful past experiences, work to the disadvantage of these children by instilling feelings of hopelessness, anger and instability, and therefore shadowing any attempts made by community nursing practitioners and other relevant stakeholders to get these children out of the homelessness situation. These children are also likely to remain in homeless shelters for the better part of their lives due to external factors such as poverty and lack of family or social support (Buckner, 2008).
As already mentioned in this paper, many homeless children demonstrate mental, emotional and cognitive deficits when compared with their counterparts in the general population. Available literature demonstrates that many homeless children demonstrate symptoms reminiscent of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Consequently, the community nursing student should pay attention to this mood/emotional disorder, in large part due to the fact that many homeless children live with painful and traumatic past life experiences, including domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, as well as rape (Maurer & Smith, 2009).
These experiences are responsible for triggering the symptoms of depression, anxiety, agitation and confusion, multiple stresses, intense fear, horror or denial, suicidal ideation, aggression, and frequent emotional breakdowns (Nunez, 2000). Children with PTSD also lose interest in various activities, including playing and reading. The loss of interest could perhaps explain why homeless children residing in shelters perform poorly in school when compared to their counterparts in the general population. Additionally, children residing in homeless shelters demonstrate problems concentrating, act younger than their age, and show elevated alertness to the environment (Buckner, 2008). These symptoms form the hallmarks of PTSD.
Buckner, J.C. (2008). Understanding the impact of homelessness on children: Challenges and future research directions. American Behavioral Scientist, 51(6), 721-737.
Maurer, F.A., & Smith, C.M. (2009). Community/public health nursing practice: Health for families and populations (5th ed.). St. Louis, Missouri: Saunders Elsevier.
Nunez, R. (2000). Homeless in America: A children’s story. Journal of Children & Poverty, 6(1), 51-72.