DALLAS (AP) - After Angelic Davis was laid off from her job as a collections agent last year and could no longer afford a small Dallas apartment, her 3-year-old daughter Kourtney often became confused about what it meant to be homeless.
"Mom, are we going to (grandma's) house, are we going to auntie's house or are we going to our house?" Davis, 23, recalled the girl asking almost nightly.
A study released Tuesday by the National Center on Family Homelessness shows the number of homeless children continues to rise in Texas, though the state no longer ranks dead last in how it deals with the problem, as it did two years ago.
Texas improved from 50th to 38th in part because of what Dr. Ellen L. Bassuk, president and founder of the national center, calls "a manmade disaster" that has pushed more than 1.6 million children -- one in 45 nationally -- into homelessness. All but five states have seen a steady climb, she said.
"We now have more homeless kids (nationally) than we did in the year of hurricane. That's alarming," Bassuk said.
The rankings were based on four areas: the percentage of homeless children; their overall well-being; risk factors for homelessness, such as poverty and foreclosure rates; and what the state is doing to address the problems.
The report defined as homeless any child age 18 or younger living with at least one parent or caregiver in such places as emergency shelters, motels, cars, or campgrounds due to economic hardships or losing their own homes. It did not include runaways or homeless youth.
Texas has 131,198 homeless children, according to the study. That's a dramatic drop from the more than 337,000 homeless children the last report cited, based on 2006 federal and state statistics, but that number that was largely inflated by families who lost their homes during hurricanes Rita and Katrina and in 2005 moved to Texas from Louisiana.
Bassuk said the impact of natural disasters led to a mass migration, and Texas took in a large number of families. Once those displaced families either returned to Louisiana or settled into their new home states in 2007, Texas had about 60,000 homeless children, she said.
"Texas, in various ways, has done a number of things that I think have helped homeless kids. That's good news," said Bassuk, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "They need to because the numbers are outrageous."
Texas' national ranking has improved partly due to its strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. It has started to show results, though the child poverty level in Texas is at 24 percent, compared to 18.2 percent nationwide.
Alabama has since become the worst place for child homelessness while Vermont is considered the best, according to the report.
Although state officials and advocacy groups differ on the number of homeless children in Texas -- estimates start at about 55,000 and go up -- no one seems to doubt the numbers are rising.
All it takes is one sick child or a layoff to put a family on the street, said Ken Martin, executive director of the Texas Homeless Network.
"There is just a multiplicity of reasons that people can become homeless," Martin said. "We're just seeing a lot of them converge right now, which is why we're seeing a rise in family homelessness."
Families with children are doubling, tripling and quadrupling up in households, not because they want to but because they have to, experts say. That was the case for the Davis family.
From November 2010 until they were accepted into the transitional housing program at Family Gateway in Dallas last month, Angelic Davis, her daughter Kourtney Marie and newborn son, Richard, bounced from place to place -- having sold or given away most of their possessions.
Davis, who dropped out of college when she got pregnant during her sophomore year, said she was "disappointed, angry and upset" when she lost her job. As she packed up her desk, along with three pictures of her daughter, she said she wondered: "How are we going to get through this? What's next Lord?"
At Gateway, Davis gets job training, parenting classes, meals and a spacious room for 15 weeks. She said she is determined to finish college to provide a better life for her kids.
She said she feels "blessed" and that Kourtney is "happy to be in her own house," even if it's a temporary one.
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