In my essay, I wrote about some children I had seen on the streets panhandling with their mother in Washington, D.C. I also wrote about a child I saw in Lisbon, Portugal, who was also homeless. In my mind at the time, homelessness was a characteristic owned by adults. These children I had seen were certainly extremely rare, particularly within the United States.
Today I know this is only a fantasy, one shared by most of the complacent population. In fact, the fastest growing segment of homeless individuals in the United States today is that of families with children. Approximately 1.3 million children are homeless today, and of those, approximately 500,000 are under the age of 5. How is this possible? How could we not know of such a severe problem?
Because we are lulled into believing that those who are homeless are the men and woman we see wandering the streets without a home. We console ourselves with the thought that they are adults, in charge of their own fate and future. If they wanted a home, surely they could manage it, we tell ourselves. Most of them are probably alcoholics and drug addicts, we whisper in our mind, without ever admitting the darkness of our thoughts.
Is someone only considered homeless in our eyes when they are visibly living on the streets? What of the millions in temporary shelters, sleeping on a neighbor’s or family member’s couch, rotating from home to home every few days to keep from becoming a burden to those they rely upon for a temporary roof over their head?
This issue is extremely important to me, as I have been working with the homeless children in my school district for the past year. On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, from 5:00 to 7:30, we meet at a local elementary school and do all that we can to provide a small amount of stability in the most unstable of lives. Our main focus is to provide academic support in the hopes that these children will stay in school, that they will be among the few who actually make it to graduation day.
Each and every one of the children I have met through this program breaks my heart; from the victims of domestic abuse to the African refugees who have memories of escaping into the brush to avoid guerilla warfare; from the victims of severe poverty to those of circumstance like fire or loss of a job.
These are the heroes in my world: these children who somehow manage to bring me hope and joy, merely through their presence in my lifeÂ and the demonstration of their will to survive.