Welcome to the children’s pages

By Susan Peine

Welcome to the children’s pages of this edition of the Homeless Grapevine. In this section, we hope to provide you with a glimpse of the child’s perspective on homelessness.

We questioned children, in and around Cleveland, on their opinions of homelessness. The responses consist of both housed students and students who have currently found themselves in a homeless situation. These particular students range in age from elementary school to high school.

We often think of a child as innocent, perhaps even naïve to the seemingly complex issues of our world. But as you will find from reading these responses, children are very attentive to what goes on around them. Their awareness of problems equals their awareness of how the adults around them deal with or ignore these same problems. As they develop, children ‘s opinions and attitudes are easily influenced by those around them, such as parents, teachers and other mentors, whom they have come to love and respect. Therefore it is essential for us to strive to teach our children responsibility for one another as citizens of our country.

Children understand that a person wandering the streets asking for money may very well be a homeless individual. They also understand that by walking away, ignoring and avoiding contact with that same individual, we are showing them how to ignore the problem of homelessness. When we choose to walk away from that individual on the streets and do not discuss the issue of homelessness with the child, we are teaching them that homelessness is not an issue worth acting upon. When we yell in disgust that the welfare system only supports lazy people who don’t have any desire to work, the children hear and learn.

As citizens of this country we are allowed many individual rights, but as I have been taught those rights come with responsibilities. As long as I have the right to live in a home, so does the man, woman and child on the streets. Because I have been fortunate enough to never have known the injustices of homelessness, I have a responsibility to ensure that our society provides a means for those without homes to enable themselves to have homes.

I have found in giving presentations to students about the issue of homelessness, that they are very interested in discussing the problem. Most are aware of the problem’s existence, though some felt it only a situation found on television. Many do not know the causes of homelessness. Because these students are on their way to becoming the leaders and decision makers of tomorrow, we owe to ourselves and our society to teach them to face the issues of homelessness and understand how people find themselves in such a situation.

The voices found on these pages are responses to what we have taught them, what we have shown them and their own conclusions drawn from what they have learned. I think that you will find much optimism in their words, and we are responsible for keeping their optimism alive.

Thank you to all the children who have taken the time to respond to our questions and have developed an interest in the issue of homelessness.

The following are the questions asked of the students and some of their responses:

1) What does homelessness (being homeless) mean to you?

l Homelessness, to me, means being without shelter or being empty hearted.

(Male, age 19, grade 12)

l Homeless means no place to call your own. Nowhere, a person can go for sanctuary or to

feel stable.

(Female, Age 18, Grade 12)

l It’s when you sleep in a church. It’s when you have to go to a friend’s house to stay when you do not have a house.

(Male, Age 7, Grade 1)

2) What would you do if you saw a homeless person or family on the streets?

l I feel bad for them, but if they look like a druggie, I get kind of mad because they are taking money from people to destroy their lives.

Female, Age 13, Grade 8

l Honestly, I do not know. I’ve never been put in that situation. So, I wouldn’t know what I would do.

Female, Age 14, Grade 8

l When I see a homeless person, I think to myself ‘that could be me or my family’ and I am thankful for what I have.

Male, Age 13, Grade 8

3) How would you feel if you or your family became homeless?

l I would be very upset. I would be mad at everybody because this happened.

Female, age 13, Grade 8

l I would be worried so much. I probably couldn’t sleep at night. I would try to get a job to make a little money.

Male, Age 14, Grade 8

4) How can you help to end homelessness?

l I can help to end homelessness by helping to spread information about it, to let people know

the truth about homelessness.

Female, Age 18, Grade 12

l That’s a hard question, there’s so many things that we can do. I think the best thing is to give money to churches to help feed the homeless.

Male, Age 13, Grade 8

l I don’t think I could do much by myself but if a lot of people get together, I think it can be stopped.

Female, Age 13, Grade 8

l I think the answer is simple. You can help the homeless by building more houses.

Female, Age 17, Grade 12

5) Additional comments made by students about the topic of homelessness.

l I used to think homeless people were all really bad. Some are, but many of them are kids and just regular people who lost their house.

Female, Age 13, Grade 8

l I didn’t realize the complications and details of being homeless.

Female, Age 13, Grade 8

l I think everyone should know what homelessness is and should read the Grapevine

Male, Age 8, Grade 3

l I think more attention needs to be brought to the subject. I hope that sooner or later the community can do something about it.

Male, age 19, Grade 12

l I think that people with homes should remember that homeless people were probably just like them. Never down a homeless person either.

Female, Age 17, Grade 12

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published January – February 1997 Issue 19