With Thanksgiving and the Holiday Season around the corner, A Family Lifestyle is dedicating November and December to being thankful, family and getting our homes in order (financially). We hope you enjoy the next few months!
“Mommy, what does that sign say?” my 5-year-old son asked as we pulled into a city intersection. “Why is that man standing there holding a sign?”
This was the beginning of our conversation about homelessness. If you are like us, we never knew what to do at an intersection with multiple homeless people asking for help. As a skeptical people, we are often unsure of someone’s motives as we approach. There are times when the person’s appearance shows their need, but others it’s hard to know. Should we be doing something to help these people?
Most people drive by and don’t even look. In fact, most people try to look away. It’s the same when we walk in the city on the street. If someone asks for money most people act as if they cannot hear the person.
When a child asks why they are there, it’s amazing how much more clearly we see what they see. From his eyes, they weren’t people scamming others. They didn’t have ulterior motives for what they were appearing to do. They were simply a few people holding signs he couldn’t read.
In the U.S. in 2015 on any given night there were almost 570,000 people who were homeless. Of those people over 200,000 of them were in families. Fifteen percent of those people are chronically homeless, and eight percent of them are veterans.
How Do You Talk to Your Child
Step 1: Define and explain homelessness
We started with the definition of being homeless. That was very quickly followed by “why?” This is the hardest part to explain to a child, and honestly the hardest thing to think about as an adult. Our children and ourselves are so lucky to have a home and to have a bed of our own. It’s hard to fathom the fact that some people do not have that.
As you find yourself explaining you might also find that you are feeling very emotional yourself. The thought of your child having compassion and interest in people with nothing is overwhelming. Even if you were one of those people who couldn’t look at the intersection and always drives right by you may feel something changing.
Step 2: Explain what the signs say and what the people are asking for.
Tell your child what the people are asking for and why. Some homeless in our city say they are homeless and need money. Some ask for “help” – without a specific request. Some say they were veterans and have nothing.
This will lead to a line of questions about how come some people don’t have any money? How come some people don’t have food? Why don’t they go to the grocery store? Life is very simple for your child, and this topic is complex. You may have never thought about the complexity of this topic until your child asked you. I know that I certainly hadn’t gone in depth with another person about being homeless.
Step 3: Create a call to action.
If you aren’t feeling inspired by your child’s interest and concern for the homeless, perhaps it’s time to talk and think some more. But I can tell you that after we talked I felt the need to be prepared to help those that are homeless. We are starting small. As my child ages, my hope is our family can help more.
Brainstorm Ways to Help
We started with thinking of ways to help the homeless. My son immediately wanted to help. We decided that if we were on the street in the city, we would provide change or small bills to those that asked. We have done this. Our first experience was sharing very small change in our pockets. We gave the gentlemen everything we had in them. He was incredibly thankful for such small change. It was sad yet touching. We had helped even if it was only a little.
A helpful bag
I had recently seen a post online about a helping bag for those that were homeless. Another family had put together a small plastic bag containing snacks, some small bills (cash), a pair of socks, and some travel toiletries. We loved this idea. We also decided to add in a card with contact information for our local Rescue Mission and Samaritan Center (soup kitchen). From a family member who works for one of these organizations we learned it’s best to leave out mouthwash from your toiletry kit. Those with substance abuse issues may struggle with this item.
Donating items to the Rescue Mission or Goodwill
Our city is fortunate to have several great organizations helping the homeless. They provide meals and work with individuals to help them find work and housing. They can help get back on their feet. They take all types of household goods and clothing. They even sell toys for children less fortunate.
We routinely donate all of our clothing items as well as toys to the local organizations for those in need. We have always done this, but now after our discussion the point is more understood. There are now faces to the people who we are providing these items to.
In the future
My goal for our family is to help in the future by volunteering. I want my son to experience helping those in our community.