“Where are we going to go?” This is the question an eight year old girl asks her mother night after night as they navigate homelessness in Shante Norton’s Where are we going to go? The story is told from the child’s perspective as she tries to find normalcy in school while her family floats between shelters and even sleeps in their car at night. Coming to school exhausted from trying to sleep all night in a cramped car does not make learning easy. Only when the child eventually confides in her school counselor can the family truly get the help they need to get back on their feet again.
The statistics on homelessness among young families in our country are startling. According to a 2018 report from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, almost 60,000 families in the United States are homeless on any given night (retrieved from https://endhomelessness.org/resource/family-homelessness-in-the-united-states-state-by-state-snapshot/). One in thirty children will experience homelessness each year, and 51% of those children are under the age of five (retrieved from https://www.doorwaysva.org/our-work/education-advocacy/the-facts-about-family-homelessness/). In my state alone of Oklahoma, almost 4,000 people are counted as homeless every night. Obviously, homelessness is a threat many of our families are facing every day.
Some families are caught in cycles of chronic homelessness. Specifically, “People With a mental illness can experience cycles or iterations of homelessness where they move chaotically through various forms of tenuous housing and periods of living on the street. They do not undergo a steady pathway or career from a more stable to less stable housing situation” (retrieved from https://www.ahuri.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/2990/AHURI_RAP_Issue_39_Cycles_of_homelessness.pdf). In other words, they have not developed skills to be self sufficient and just move from one temporary place to another.
Just basing this opinion off of personal observations, I have noticed that we are so good at reaching a hand out to those who let us know they are experiencing hardship. The mother in Shante Norton’s Where are we going to go? Was embarrassed by their situation and refused to ask for help, which made it difficult to assist them in the beginning of the story. What we need to do a better job as a collective that works with these families is intervening on behalf of the chronically homeless and equipping them with the skills needed to sustain more permanent housing and employment situations. While COVID 19 has made many of these programs more difficult, a quick google search found an extensive list of non profit agencies that offer classes on the likes of budgeting, food preparation, organizing, job interview skills, etc. As a community, it is important to share these types of programs with those who may need it, as well as advocating for continued funding so that we can put a true dent in homelessness.
Doorways. The facts about family homelessness. Retrieved from https://www.doorwaysva.org/our-work/education-advocacy/the-facts-about-family-homelessness/
National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2018). Family homelessness in the United States: A state by state snapshot. Retrieved from https://endhomelessness.org/resource/family-homelessness-in-the-united-states-state-by-state-snapshot/