As a society we’ve become quite skilled at assuming a person is homeless through some fault of their own — even when there is ample evidence to the contrary. I’m not sure why this is.
Perhaps it has to do with our having viewed homelessness through the eyes of stereotypes for so long that we aren’t willing to admit that we’ve been wrong. Or maybe it’s because if we concede that what we’ve believed all along is incorrect, we’ll have to come up with some way of explaining why we’ve done nothing to remedy homelessness.
All of which makes me wonder how long it will take before we do own up to it. I certainly hope it won’t be too much longer — especially for the sake of our nation’s children.
About a week ago I read a New York Times article that, both, broke my heart and made me angry. It broke my heart because it dealt with homeless children — a segment of our nation’s homeless population that is growing almost exponentially. It made me angry because, in my opinion, we have an obligation to do whatever it takes to correct this situation, and yet we seem to be doing little more than just sitting on our hands.
The article spotlighted three sisters in particular: Brianna, Tamara, and Sydney Collins, who attend the Fern Creek Elementary School in Orlando, Florida.
While some folks might be tempted to assign blame for their homelessness on their parents, the article clearly noted that their father lost his job when the economy tanked. Their mother also lost her seasonal job at the Amway Arena (home of the Orlando Magic).
What it comes down to is this: the Collins’ are a working class family who found themselves falling into homelessness due to external circumstances outside their control. That’s a scenario that has become more common place throughout the nation — particularly with the current state of the economy.
And before someone offhandedly dismisses Brianna, Tamara, and Sydney as being only three students out of an entire schools’ student body, consider this sentence from the article:
"Twenty percent of Fern Creek’s students are homeless, and school is the best part of the day for many of them."
However, Fern Creek isn’t the only school in the U.S. that has seen an increase in the numbers of homeless children.
Further down in the article these startling facts are presented:
"Nationally, the number of homeless students at public schools reached an all-time high after the recession hit. In the 2008-9 school year, there were 954,914 homeless students, compared with 679,724 in 2006-7, according to the latest data from the United States Department of Education."
Think about that. Let it soak in. Nearly 1 million students in our nation’s school system who fit the federal definition of a homeless child!
That’s not something we should be proud of. It’s something we should be hanging our collective heads in shame about. And it’s something that should compel us to re-examine what we think homelessness is about and who it can afflict.
As a nation we have a choice. We can continue to view homelessness with a mindset polluted by stereotypes. In which case, the numbers of children who will suffer the indignities of being homeless will increase. Or, we can open our eyes and do whatever is necessary to create solutions that will ensure that every child in our nation has a "hearth and home."
This past weekend, while at my favorite coffee house, I noticed a small poster hanging on their bulletin board. I was for a local chapter of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate).
What caught my attention was its slogan line: "A Child with a CASA is not alone"
I know that — as referenced on the poster — CASA refers to a person who does " . . . court appointed volunteer advocacy for abused and neglected children so that they can thrive in safe, permanent homes."
But it struck me that that particular slogan had a double meaning — perhaps intentionally.
You see, in Spanish, the word "casa" means "a home."
Just think how wonderful it would be if we put forth whatever effort is necessary to see to it that each and every one of our nation’s children has a "casa."