By Ellen Presley, former House Manager at the Crisis Shelter for Women and Children
They brush their teeth, do their homework, eat dinner, do chores, and play just like any other kid. The only difference...they're living in a homeless shelter.
One interesting, sad, yet thought-provoking perspective from a 12-year-old recently interviewed: "When I'm older and homeless..." A very real and honest perception. Children who are homeless just assume they will always be homeless.
"I hear negative stuff, so I think negative stuff." When children hear their moms and other women at the shelter talk about what life situations brought them to the shelter, that becomes their reality.
"My mom cried all the time, so we had to leave our home and come to this shelter." When asked how her mom was doing now, the child replied, "I don't know. She seems happy, at least, she doesn't cry so much."
Some other comments from children regarding shelter life:
"I like the stability of the schedule here because it makes me feel comfortable."
"It's easier to get my homework done because there are people to help me, and besides, there's nothing else to do."
"I learned how to ride a bike...without training wheels."
"At least there are other kids to play games with when I get bored."
"My mom called it camping when we were actually living in our car. It was kinda fun."
Children at the shelter are extremely resilient and often appear to be stronger than their parents. Recently, a 14- year-old boy at the shelter calmed his mother down as she was screaming at another resident over a perceived slight. The boy told his mom she was scaring her two younger daughters, and if she didn't cool it, they all might have to leave the shelter.
It's not always easy for the kids. Another 14-year-old boy tried to run back to his old home in another state. When he was caught and returned to his mom at the shelter, he threatened to hurt himself. Fortunately, a staff member was able to intervene and talk him down from his extremely agitated and self-destructive state of mind. The staff member let him vent and showed him how many people love and care about him.
But that is the exception. When asked if they feel any different from the other kids at school, here are what some of the kids said:
"No, not really, I just can't have my friends spend the night."
"I think I get free food at school...it's pretty good."
"I like Homework Club at the shelter and especially the staff and the people who help me. They're fun...and I like having my homework done on time!"
We offer what we can to make shelter life as normal as possible for our kids. They seem to like being in a warm, safe, loving environment. They see their moms more relaxed. And even though being in a shelter might not be ideal, it's the first time in a long time that many of these kids have had any semblance of stability and some sort of "family" life. Isn't that what all kids crave?
UGM understands that breaking the "cycle of homelessness” frequently starts with the services provided to kids and their moms at the Crisis Shelter for Women and Children.
Give kids and their moms the services they need - food, shelter, and more.