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.