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The Summer Surge

Though the specifics vary from community to community, most cities across the country face what is known as the “summer surge”, where the number of homeless significantly increases for the summer months. There are several reasons for this sudden rise.

During the school year, many homeless families are able to stay with family or friends so the children can complete the school year. Once school is over the living situation becomes less tolerable with the children home all day and many families must find new arrangements but often find themselves without options, causing an increase in families trying to find shelters for housing. Additionally, many people are unable to afford child care in the summer and are therefore unable to maintain their employment. Another typical cause for the “summer surge” throughout the country is that landlords are often hesitant to evict people, especially families with small children, in the cold months, but are more inclined to do so when the weather becomes warmer. Issues concerning the economy and high unemployment also contribute to the problem.

This increase in homeless families puts an enormous strain on shelters that are already functioning on stressed budgets. Many shelters this time of year are experiencing increased demand for beds as well as services, while receiving less state and federal funding and fewer private donations. The increase in demand for services and the decrease in funding is forcing many shelters to restrict the services they offer and limit further the number of beds they provide. With the “summer surge” many shelters are desperately trying to stretch their funding as far as they can to meet the needs of families by extending their hours of operation in order to provide as many services for as many people as they can, setting up mats and cots on the floor and creating makeshift waiting rooms to accommodate the increasing number of families in a desperate attempt to keep the family together.

Keeping families together in the summer months is often very difficult. The increase in homeless families means more beds need to be available at a single time and this often is not possible. It is not uncommon during the summer months for families to be split up between several homeless shelters, and since cell phones are not something these families typically have, communication is difficult.

The summer months also bring increased health and nutrition deficits that are felt especially hard by homeless children. Often children receive free breakfast and lunch through programs offered by the school district, so they are ensured at least two meals a day. However, once school ends, the money isn’t available for balanced nutritional meals and it becomes more difficult for children to get the proper food needed. Typically, there are services provided by many homeless shelters that feed families and children, but again, in the summer with the increased number of homeless families, these programs are stretched to the breaking point, and too often the need outnumbers the available services.

For shelters trying to combat the “summer surge”, donations of food make the biggest difference during this time. Food donations can determine whether or not a child eats on a particular day or whether a family is turned away. Simple donations such as canned fruit and vegetables, cereal, boxed food items and other inexpensive food items can go a long way towards feeding homeless families and children. Those programs that offer prepared meals often accept donations of fresh fruit to include in the daily meal. Look into local homeless programs to learn more about how you can help combat the “summer surge” and keep families together and healthy during the summer.


Coalition for the Homeless. (2018). Early signs of the summer surge in NYC. Retrieved from:

Strategies to End Homelessness. (2018). “Summer surge” a time of struggle. Retrieved from:

Cornerstone Rescue Mission. (2018). Summer surge. Retrieved from:

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