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Hawaii scores well in finding homes for poor children


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POSTED: Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hawaii has received high marks for how homeless children fare in the islands, which is remarkable when considering the sizzling cost of housing rentals. The report gives Hawaii an “;inadequate”; grade for policy and planning — along with 23 other states — but Hawaii's state and county governments must be doing something right.

The National Center on Family Homelessness reports that one of every 50 American children experienced homelessness at least once during 2006. In Hawaii, according to the report, 1,566 children — about one in 200 — spent at least one night in a shelter or under the stars during that year. That amounts to about one-tenth of the 16,000 children in Hawaii who live below the poverty line.

The figures cited by the center might be underestimates. They are based on school enrollment by homeless children and the Urban Institute's research that 42 percent of homeless children are below school age.

Hawaii has a greater disparity than any other state between the minimum wage and rental housing affordability, the report says. A person making the state's minimum wage of $7.25 an hour would have to work 160 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the fair-market rent of about $1,500, it says. Even somebody making the average wage of $12.42 an hour would have to put in a 93-hour week.

A typical homeless family of a single mother with two children who receives public assistance of less than $857 monthly can afford to pay $257 for rent in Hawaii, the report explains. “;For families in this situation,”; it says, “;even a seemingly minor event can trigger a catastrophic outcome, pushing a family onto the streets.”;

The report ranks Hawaii fourth in the extent of child homelessness, fifth in child well-being, 10th for the risk of child homelessness and an overall rank of third-best in the country.

The negative health effects of homelessness on children are significant, the report points out. Homeless families are twice as likely as middle-income parents to report that their children have severe health problems such as asthma, dental problems and emotional difficulties.

In school, half of Hawaii's homeless students in grades 3 through 8 were tested and only 7 percent were judged proficient in math and 12 percent in reading. In high school, only 13 percent of students eligible for the National School Lunch program were proficient in either area. Less than one-fourth of Hawaii's homeless graduate from high school, the report assumes from those scores; those with a diploma can expect lifetime earnings of $200,000 more than those without.