Learning From Our Children

Posted: June 3, 2009 in Children, Compassion, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Morality

I read a lot of news articles about homelessness everyday. Some are good. Some, not so good. But, every so often I read one which is so moving that it leaves a lump in my throat.

Such was the case yesterday – and it is probably one of the most inspiring articles I’ve read in quite some time.

The article from the Seattle Times, Grade-schoolers use penny donations to help homeless man, recounts the efforts of a number of students at the Hawthorne Elementary school, who helped one local area homeless man become housed.  

The students raised money for a program called Penny Harvest.

According to the article, students from 54 schools in King County, asked their "… classmates to bring in spare change, then forming student committees (guided by an adult coach) that decide where to donate it."

The total is then tallied and distributed equally among the schools, which then go about donating the funds in their areas.

Although most of the schools donated their portions to local non-profit organizations, the students at Hawthorne Elementary chose a different course of action: helping a homeless man named DeBraer Brae get housing.

What I found particularly moving about this story is that the "student committee" from Hawthorne wasn’t comprised of high-school students or teenagers. This committee was made up of eight-, nine- and ten-year olds.

Some of them had met Mr. Brae when their teacher, Jason Wong, had invited him to come to the school to speak to the students about homelessness. Some of the other students had seen him on the streets in Columbia City as they rode the bus to and from school.

Each member of the committee agreed on one thing: they all wanted to do something to help Mr. Brae, but as the article stated:

"… The question was: How much? And what about the shelter for homeless women and children they also were considering? Didn’t the women and children there deserve help, too?

Like many moral dilemmas, there was no easy solution.

The students met a dozen times over several months, giving up lunch recess to sit in a windowless room around a group of desks pushed together."

The committee did finally find a consensus:

"Finally, they compromised: $710 for DeBraer and $290 for Broadview. Then Julia Kirchner, their adult coach, remembered she had another $40 in coins in the closet, which came in after this year’s collection deadline, so they could give $750 to DeBraer after all."

To be sure, the $750 which the students donated has a limit on how long it can keep Mr. Brae housed. In fact, it’s already been several months since he’s been receiving the "grants" from the students – so he may find himself without housing in the near future.

However, as their Mr. Wong said:

"These kids did exactly what nobody would do. Their donations just didn’t have enough zeros."

What I found amazing about these students is that, even with an extremely limited budget, they were able to make difference. And, all it really took was a little bit of working together to get things done.

Those students are the type of role models which our nation’s elected officials should be trying to emulate.

Too often, when local governments sit down to work out their annual budgets, funding for programs to aid the homeless comes almost as an afterthought.

I fully recognize that our nation’s economy is floundering. As a result, cities have to tread lightly with regards to how they spend taxpayer dollars. However, even when local governments have had surpluses, funding for homeless support services seems to have always ended up with the "short end of the stick."

Consequently, now with more and more folks experiencing homelessness due to the recession, there are even less services to go around.

Unfortunately, our shortsighted habit of only minimally funding programs to help the homeless will cost us more in the long run.

And, the highest price of all will be in the cost of human suffering.

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