Homeless children: the hard times generation

Scott Pelley reports on the growing number of children who are falling victim to the financial crisis

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Produced by Robert G. Anderson, Nicole Young and Daniel RuetenikNationwide, 14 million children were in poverty before the Great Recession. Now, the U.S. Census tells us its 16 million - up two million in two years. That is the fastest fall for the middle class since the government started counting 51 years ago.

One of the areas suffering the most is otherwise advertised as "The Happiest Place on Earth," the counties around Disney World and Orlando. Just on Highway 192, the road to Disney World, 67 motels house about 500 homeless kids. The government counts them homeless if they have only temporary shelter.

In Seminole County schools, 1,000 students have recently lost their homes.

At Casselberry Elementary School, students whose families are at the poverty level or slightly above qualify for the free lunch program. We talked with some of those kids with their parents' permission.

When Pelley asked a group of students how many of them had gone to bed hungry in the last few weeks, many put their hands up.

Pelley got a number of responses when he asked, "Who can tell me what it's like to feel hungry?"

"It's hard. You can't sleep. You just wait, you just go to sleep for like five minutes and you wake up again. And your stomach hurts, and you're thinking 'I can't sleep. I'm going to try and sleep, I'm going to try and sleep,' but you can't 'cause your stomach's hurting. And it's cause it doesn't have any food in it."

"And it's like a black hole. And sometimes when I don't eat, my stomach, you can hear it's like growling. You can hear it."

"Usually we eat macaroni, or we don't or we drink water or tea."

"My mom will sometimes make food and then she won't have enough so at night we'll just eat cereal or something. Other times, my parents will fight about money 'cause they don't have enough money to pay the food."

"We have to sometimes take food from a church. It's hard because my grandmother's also out of work and we usually get some food from her."

"It's kind of embarrassing because the next day, you go to school asking kids if they want this, or if they want that. If they have cereal and they haven't opened it yet, you go ask them if they want their cereal."

We found a lot of families are making a choice between food and electricity: when Pelley asked how many of them had the lights turned off at their house, nearly all students put their hands up.

"How do you study when you don't have the lights on at home?" Pelley asked.

"We have emergency flashlights, and I usually have to use them," one student explained.

"I'll just light candles and sit around in a circle of candles," another said.

And another said, "I go out to the car and turn on the overhead and read out there and study."

Ashley Rhea raised her hand to add something that we didn't expect: "I kind of feel like it's my fault that we don't have enough money. I feel like it's my fault that they have to pay for me. And the clothes that they buy for me."

"They're believing it's their fault that they in this situation," Beth Davalos told Pelley.

Davalos runs the Seminole County programs for homeless kids. "Our numbers go up every day. Between five and 15 new homeless students a day," she explained.

And she told us something else is new: "When I first started this program eight years ago, homelessness lasted maybe two, three months. But now with it lasting three, six months, a year or two years, this is when children are developing who they are and their foundation is broken."

When asked how these students are doing in school, Davalos said, "They're struggling, it's much harder. They're more at risk for not doing well. They're focusing on 'How can I help mom and dad?' We have so many students that want to quit school and go to work."