If we are ever to have real peace in this world we shall have to begin with the children.
– Mohandas K. Gandhi
A Home for Every Child
The numbers of homeless women and children are growing. Much more must be done to improve what is truly a tragic situation. Millions of children suffer daily from the effects of homelessness. Because of this, their young lives are practically stopped before they have even started. As a nation, we must combine all our efforts in order to help homeless children.
The federal definition of homelessness used by all public schools in the United States includes children and youth who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. This definition specifically includes children and youth living in shelters, transitional housing, cars, campgrounds, motels, and sharing the housing of others temporarily due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or similar reasons. This is the same definition of homelessness used by Head Start, special education, child nutrition, and other federal family and youth programs.
The education definition of homelessness reflects the reality of family and youth homelessness. Emergency shelters in urban and suburban areas cannot meet demand, turning away requests for shelter. Many shelters place eligibility restrictions on families and youth; for example, many shelters do not admit families with adolescent boys, or do not allow unaccompanied minors. Rural and suburban areas may not have shelters at all. Families and youth may not have enough money to stay at a motel, or they may leave their homes in crisis, fleeing to the first available location. Youth who are homeless without an adult may be afraid to enter an adult shelter. http://www.naehcy.org
The numbers of children enduring such daily trials are shocking. More than one million students in this country are homeless. The key word in that sentence is: students. All totaled, the number of homeless children in America is actually much higher. The U.S. Department of Education, which released the one million figure this June, included only “children enrolled in U.S. public preschools and kindergarten through 12th grade for the 2010-2011 school year,” according to the Orlando Sentinel. As the Sentinel points out, that excludes “infants, toddlers, preschool-aged children who aren’t enrolled in public programs and homeless children who are home-schooled.” It also excludes homeless teenagers who are not enrolled in school. The National Center on Family Homelessness estimates that the true number of homeless children in the U.S. is closer to 1.6 million.
Sadly, the homeless children statistics are reflecting increases instead of improvement of dire situations for so many families nationwide. Children are one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. homeless population. In San Diego County alone, 2,400 children stayed in emergency or transitional shelters in 2012. More than 40 percent of the children were under the age of 6.
We know the facts and figures. Now the real work can be done. But, how to help homeless children? Whatspecifically can be done to feed, clothe, shelter, and educate our most innocent citizens?
1) Volunteer – The most productive way to get started helping the homeless is to join forces with a well-established operation. As a volunteer you will learn from those who are already making a difference, rather than repeating the mistakes of well-meaning but misguided novices.
2) Give – The most proactive way to give is to make your donations to a well-known, reputable organization in your community. Many shelters and soup kitchens also welcome contributions of food, clothing and other supplies.
3) Support government legislation – Remain informed and get involved with initiatives designed to help the homeless population in your community and nationwide. The Homeless Children and Youth Act – H.R. 32 – is one such piece of legislation that would provide enormous assistance to America’s homeless families. www.helphomelesskidsnow.org
4) Educate – The best place for school age homeless children is in the schools. Navigating their way into school is, sadly, a complex dilemma for these children who have no permanent address to write on school registration forms. Consequently, they are often denied admission.
There is hope, however, for homeless children in San Diego. Monarch is a school dedicated specifically to helping and teaching homeless youth – grades K through 12.
From a story in San Diego’s Union Tribune – April 23, 2013: The nonprofit arm of the school raised $15 million to build the new campus in the former offices of the San Diego Housing Commission that once served as the city’s temporary homeless shelter. The new Monarch School Nat & Flora Bosa Campus has been named for the local philanthropists who donated $5 million to the project.
Located on Newton Avenue, the school is close to homeless shelters, social service centers and mass transportation.
A partnership between the nonprofit Monarch School Project and the San Diego County Office of Education, the unusual educational program serves students from kindergarten through high school who are affected by homelessness. San Diego is one of just four counties nationwide to be given permission from the federal government to run public schools specifically for homeless students.
Worldwide, the numbers of homeless children are even more alarming. PCI has established a firm and supportive presence across the globe helping homeless youth and their families.
INDIA – ORPHANS AND VULNERABLE CHILDREN
UNICEF estimates that approximately 25 million children in India under the age of 17 years are either orphaned or living on the streets. In the capital city of New Delhi alone, there are an estimated 100,000 orphans and vulnerable children working and living on the streets and in the city’s train and bus stations, increasing their risk of exploitation and physical and sexual abuse. In response, PCI/India provides a range of empowering interventions and support to at-risk children through drop-in centers in the communities of New Seemapuri and Red Fort in Delhi. The centers serve as hubs for children living and/or working on the streets and a network of outreach workers provide critical services such as counseling and treatment, nutrition education, health and psycho-social support, vocational and life-skills training, and family reunification services. Special emphasis is given to vulnerable, adolescent girls, who often have fewer opportunities than boys to complete their education or learn a vocational skill. Additional drop in centers and a shelter home for boys are also maintained in rural areas near Delhi.
AFRICA – ORPHANS OF THE AIDS PANDEMIC
In Zambia, the devastating effect of the AIDS pandemic has also resulted in a generation of orphans, many of whom must raise younger siblings or fend for survival on the streets. Current and past PCI HIV/AIDS programming in Zambia emphasizes the needs of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) and their families. In the capital city of Lusaka alone, there are an estimated 100,000 children living and/or working on the streets. Established in 2000 by PCI and the Fountain of Hope, Africa Kid SAFE (Shelter, Advocacy, Food, and Education) program is a network of partners addressing the street children crisis in Zambia and providing OVC with shelter, food, medical care, counseling, education, and skills training. In addition, between 2005 and 2010, through the BELONG program, PCI built the capacity of local partners to integrate OVC services into home-based care (HBC) programs, collaborated with 200 community schools and 17 local NGOs to empower communities to care for OVC and provide opportunities for economic empowerment through self-help groups. Over the life of the project, BELONG partners and PCI provided direct services to nearly 252,000 OVC and over 15,700 OVC caregivers in Zambia and Ethiopia.
As you can see, the reasons for becoming homeless are as varied as the individuals themselves. Nonetheless, any bit or type of assistance goes a long to provide basic necessities, and even more importantly, HOPE, for our world’s homeless children. Please visit our website for ways to become involved. Lend a hand to the lives of others. www.pciglobal.org.