We invite you to take the challenge, Play SPENT now:
SPENT is an online game created for Urban Ministries of Durham. Many people, including parents, find that this interactive tool is a great way to raise awareness of poverty and homelessness in our community. Give it a try and let us know what you think!
SEARCH’s Program Managers provide their advice on talking to your children about homelessness.
Mitzi Bartlett, House of Tiny Treasures Program Manager
When you talk to a child about homeless individuals it is important to remember their developmental stage of understanding. Children ages two to seven are in the pre-operational stage according to Piaget.
This means children don’t understand the other person’s point of view and can’t mentally manipulate information. It needs to be relevant to their concrete thinking.
Answers need to be short and pertinent to the child. Here are some examples;
Child, “Why is he sleeping on the street?”
Parent, “He doesn’t have a home.”
Parent, “You know how Mark, Sam and you are different so are the reasons people are homeless.’
Child, “Does he have a mommy?’
Child, “Where is she?”
Parent: “ I don’t know.”
Child, “What can we do?’
Parent, “We can collect food or water and take to SEARCH.”
The important thing to remember is it is okay to say I don’t know or I will have to find an answer.
Heather Muller, Adult Learning Center and Employment Services, Program Manager
Homelessness is a difficult topic, one which most people will try to avoid when possible. However, when it comes to answering the questions that our children ask us, avoiding the topic can contribute to confusion and a lack of understanding around the issue of homelessness in our community. Being open and honest with children about things like; where people who are homeless sleep and what they eat, is important in building both understanding of the issue and greater empathy. While keeping the conversation age appropriate is important, the message your child gets is the key.
Asking children why their homes are important to them is a good starting point; guiding them to remember that their home provides them warmth when it’s cold, a cool place when it’s hot, and safety while they sleep. People who are homeless either sleep outside in camps, under bridges, in parks, and behind buildings or indoors at homeless shelters. In either case, most people look for a place to sleep where they can be comfortable and safe.
When talking about where people that are homeless eat on a daily basis; it is important for children to understand that there are options all throughout the city for people to get breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For example, at SEARCH, people can get both breakfast and lunch and access a food pantry for extra groceries. Two details that children might not think of when it comes to getting meals; people experiencing homelessness rarely get to eat when they are hungry, instead they are offered meals at specific times. Secondly, if people have specific diets, like they’re vegetarian or have diabetes, it can be challenging to find the right types of food to meet their needs.
The important message for children to understand is that while people have different experiences, we can frequently find similarities in our needs as people. Recognizing similarities and understanding differences helps to develop compassion and empathy.
Wendy Moore, LCSW -Stabilization Services, Program Manager
What do average Houston drivers keep in the backseat of their cars? Pens and change lodged in the seats, circulars you fully intent to read, a car seat, your jogging shoes and yoga mat, or a pet’s chew toy. While your car’s backseat can be the home for random and forgotten items, it can also be the keeper of hope.
What are some other things you might keep in your back seat? Try this project with your kids.
One weekend, gather the kids and head to your local grocer. Rather than pick up food to fill your refrigerator, talk with your kids about what you might buy for people, experiencing homelessness, they see on the streets of Houston. Start by asking a lot of questions: What snacks might we choose for people we see standing on the streets holding a homeless sign? What do you think they might like to eat on a spring day like today? If you were hungry, what would you want to eat and why?
Lists created, your kids can create small care packages: cheese crackers, tuna in a pop top can, granola bars, peanut butter, or a bottle of water or juice, any non-perishable is great. It’s not how elaborate your care packages become, rather the conversations you have with your kids while shopping for these items to store in your car. Then, when you’re driving through town and you see someone who is homeless, greet them with a smile, ask your child in the back seat to pass you some of the food your bought, and share a snack with someone who is hungry. Whether or not they show it at that moment, the person you helped will be grateful.
The homelessness topic can be frightening to young children and intimidating for parents to explain. We see people on the streets, they may be dirty and many have serious mental illness. We struggle, ourselves, to understand what to do. Yet, we need to respond to our children’s questions about what they see, because we want to teach them that it is not alright to look past other human being’s suffering. By developing honest, direct and age appropriate answers, we cultivate compassion in our children. By acknowledging that homelessness is sad and sometimes scary even to grown-ups, we show our children that, even though we don’t always have the answers, we want to be part of finding the solution. By having conversations with them, we empower them to be part of the solution with us. We live our personal values by acknowledging the existence of those among us who are different, who are in pain, who are homeless. Because they are not nameless. They are homeless.