Whenever we visit a larger city we inevitably end up having a conversation about homelessness with the kids.
As with so many social issues, it can be hard to convey the nuances of the situations with the kids. The root causes of homelessness are huge. However, over time, I've grown to appreciate how sophisticated my kids are in their ability to understand and think through these sorts of issues.
These encounters have sparked so many interesting conversations. We have talked about how illness, either mental or addiction, is at the route of so much of the homelessness. We have talked about the supports our community and governments put in place and how they help, and why they fail sometimes. We've talked about choice and rights. Should homeless people be allowed to live on the streets? How much authority should a government have over some one's choices - should we be able to force them to go inside when it is cold? We've talked about what is helpful. Should we give money or food to homeless people directly knowing it may actually encourage them to stay on the streets or should we support shelters and other programs that work to get homeless people off the street? How do homeless people feel when we help them or when we walk by them?
In talking through these issues with the kids, we get a chance to think critically, to try to imagine what issues the homeless in our communities face and we can brainstorm about ways we can help.
Here are a few ideas we have talked about in order to help:
~ With your kids, research what support services are available in your area and see how you can help through donations, volunteering or activism.
~ Make up personal care bags with things like warm socks, gloves and hats, granola bars, bottled water, tooth brush and tooth paste, comb or brush, small first aid kit, shower curtain or rain poncho, gift cards for restaurants and have them to give to homeless people you encounter.
~ Gather unused winter clothing, boots, shoes, hats, gloves etc and donate to a shelter. Run a blanket or sleeping bag drive if there is an organization that can use them.
~ Model treating all people with respect and dignity. One of the kindest things you can do is acknowledge them and teach your children that their compassion is a wonderful gift.
Fly away home by Eve Bunting, (good activities page to accompany this)
Lily and the paper man by Rebecca,Upjohn,
The Lady in the Box by Ann McGovern
Fly! by Christopher Myers,
The teddy bear by David McPhail,
Great joy by Kate DiCamillo,
A Kids' Guide to Hunger & Homelessness: How to Take Action! ~ Cathryn Berger Kaye
For older kids
Gracie's girl by Ellen Wittlinger,
Shattered by Eric Walters,
December by Eve Bunting,
Lives turned upside down : homeless children in their own words and photographs by Jim Hubbard,
LinksTalking to your kids about homelessness
Fact Sheets for Kids on Homelessness (American information, but age appropriate)