“Love, belonging and connection are the universal sources of true well-being.” -Unknown
Being homeless is a traumatic experience, but for children it is especially detrimental. During a child’s crucial years of development, losing everything—their home, routines, privacy, friends, and pets—creates a toxic stress that has a lasting impact on their physical and mental health. Without basic needs, children grow up longing for more: more safety, more structure, and more security.
Approximately 2.5 million children lacked a home at some point in 2013. And according to the National Center for Homeless Education, the number of homeless students has doubled in the past decade.
While a childhood should be fun and carefree, financial struggles for homeless children can make that difficult. For these children, learning, socializing, and building relationships falls second to finances and basic needs. Homeless children may be unable to participate in activities, clubs or sports because they cannot afford them. They may struggle building friendships because they are unable to invite friends to their home or easily visit friends’ houses. They may even have trouble completing their schoolwork without the necessary materials or a place to do their homework. Ultimately, the lack of a place to call home and financial hardships stunts their development.
Children raised in homelessness are four times more likely to show slow development as non-homeless children, and they are also twice as likely to have learning disabilities. These behavioral and academic struggles lead to higher dropout rates, limiting future opportunities and creating cycles of poverty and homelessness.
Across the country, community organizations and programs are finding solutions to provide homeless children with a sense of belonging and hope for their future.
In Cincinnati, nearly half of all the children live in poverty and many are homeless. UpSpring, a nonprofit serving the educational needs of homeless children and youth, provides programs aimed to break the cycle of homelessness. One such program is a partnership between Upspring and Newport Independent Schools. Children in the third, fourth and fifth grades are part of the weekly after-school program where they gain access to a project-based, service-learning curriculum. The program provides educational support and helps instill a positive outlook on what students can achieve in the future.
Another program that fosters a sense of belonging among children in need is the Girl Scouts of Greater New York. Troop 6000 is the first in New York City designated solely for homeless girls. The members live at the Sleep Inn, a 10-floor hotel that the city has taken over to accommodate more than 100 homeless families. Meeting on the same day of each week, the group provides consistency, community, and something to look forward to for these girls who may have trouble fostering friendships due to their circumstances. The Girl Scouts of Greater New York covers the cost of membership and sponsors outings. As they state, “Every girl in the five boroughs of New York City deserves a chance to reach her full potential … that’s what Troop 6000 is all about.”
To foster true well-being, children need connections. For those children who are homeless or living in extreme poverty, community resources and non-profit groups can help to create a sense of belonging and serve to develop the skills and knowledge needed to improve health and end the cycle of poverty.
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