One thing which has always bothered me about homelessness me is the number of children who are homeless.
Families are the fastest growing segment of the nation’s homeless population. Nationally, families with children represent 33% of the homeless population. In my own small county of San Luis Obispo, 34% of the homeless are children and teens. I find these numbers quite disturbing.
Education has been touted as the great equalizer in our society. Almost everyone agrees that a quality education is an absolute requirement of raising one’s standard of living. And while, a good education does not guarantee the chance at a better life, it certainly creates the potential for one.
Unfortunately – and despite all of the braggadocio by federal law makers about "no child left behind" legislation – children who are homeless seldom to get the quality of education needed to level the playing field.
The National Coalition for the Homeless fact sheet, Education of Homeless Children and Youth, states,
"Homelessness has a devastating impact on homeless children and youth’s educational opportunities. Residency requirements, guardianship requirements, delays in transfer of school records, lack of transportation, and lack of immunization records often prevent homeless children from enrolling in school. Homeless children and youth who are able to enroll in school still face barriers to regular attendance: while 87% of homeless youth are enrolled in school, only 77% attend school regularly."
The obstacles that homeless children face at receiving a quality education places them at a distinct disadvantage when compared to their housed counterparts – even when compared to those children who are at or below poverty level but are still non-homeless. Subsequently, this reduces their potential for a better life even if they are able to escape homelessness. The lack of education places them at a greater risk of experiencing homelessness as adults than those children who have never experienced homelessness at all.
Despite this however, there are some homeless youths who are able to rise above what are often times insurmountable odds. One such example is Melvin Sewell.
Beginning at the age of 12, Melvin had been shuffled between homeless shelters and various relatives. At age 14, his mother had finally abandoned him and his younger sister at homeless shelter. Having no where else to turn, he contacted an aunt who took them in to live with her in 2004.
When his aunt could no longer afford to keep him, an uncle took him in. When, in turn his uncle could no longer afford to let him stay, Melvin found refuge at the local Salvation Army.
Throughout of all this Melvin managed to attended high school and maintain a B average and eventually graduated with a 3.0 grade point average.
All of his efforts to acquire a quality education paid off. With assistance from the Volunteers of America of North Louisiana, Melvin found himself with a fully paid grant to Louisiana Tech University, which he will begin attending this summer.
His goal? To become a surgeon.
When I read the article about Melvin on the Shreveport Times’ website, I felt such joy and excitement at his achievement. Yet, kudos must also be given to those who extended a helping hand to this remarkable young man. They provided a hand up and not a hand out.
The only thing that puts a damper on my joy is the knowledge that there are so many other homeless youth who have the same potential as Melvin, but who may not have access to the assistance they need to help them get over the hurdles. It saddens me that they may be denied the potential for a better life.
Still, deep down inside there is this small bud of hope – a hope that dreams of a day when there will be no homeless children in our nation whatsoever; a day when, we as a society, recognize that our nation’s children are our greatest asset; and a day when we are willing to do whatever it takes to truly ensure that no child is left behind.
Melvin may have started his life out as a boat against the current, but it seems to me that he well on his way to finding a safe harbor.