The classic vision of the American family includes a mother and father sitting down with their children — perhaps a boy and a girl — for dinner at a table crowded with home-cooked food. Family photos and other homey touches adorn the walls, speaking eloquently of a full life well-lived.
For many kids today, this vision has dissolved into something much different. Many live in single-parent households. Many don’t have enough to eat.
And some, sadly, don’t have a place to truly call home.
This situation is more prevalent than you might think. As told in The Herald Bulletin’s special report published June 19 and June 20, Anderson Community Schools reported 422 homeless students this past school year. And that likely isn’t the full story, since school officials are somewhat reliant on the children and their families to report homelessness.
A few of these Anderson students are living on the street, without any place to sleep. Most of them are doubled up in the living quarters of family and friends. Some live in hotel rooms.
None of these situations is stable enough to qualify as true homes.
The impact on a child’s life is difficult for many to imagine. Not knowing where they will sleep that night, the next night or next week means a child can’t concentrate on growing, learning and ultimately maturing into a responsible adult.
If a child is hungry or cold or poorly clothed — or if they don’t have a home to go to — they turn their attention to immediate needs. Adults are the same way; it’s hard to look ahead to the future when you’re scrambling to address basic day-to-day difficulties.
The problem of childhood homelessness in Anderson seems to be increasing. In the 2014-15 school year, 312 ACS students were counted as homeless. That total rose by about one-third for the 2015-16 year. ACS had an enrollment of 6,994 for the year, meaning that 6 percent of students were identified as homeless.
That’s more than 1 in 20. And that’s way too many.
Anderson isn’t alone. A report from the National Center on Family Homelessness at the American Institutes for Research in 2014 found that 1 in 30 children in the United States had experienced homelessness within the past year.
So, what can you do to help?
First, be understanding. You don’t know what might be going on in a child’s life. If he or she is struggling, give them the benefit of the doubt — and some extra help.
Next, encourage families that might be dealing with homelessness to report their situation to their school, which can help connect homeless families to resources.
Also, support the hiring of more school counselors and social workers to help families escape homelessness and to help children deal with its life-altering effects.
Finally, consider becoming a foster family or opening your home to children through Safe Families for Children of Madison County or another local organization.
Source: Herald Bulletin