Families Facing Homelessness

Think about a time when you had a rough day at work

Factors: from as small as not getting enough sleep and feeling tired or starting the day off by arguing with your spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend/best friend/child to someone close to you losing a job or getting questionable medical test results which might or might not be nothing or being in a car accident (maybe just a fender-bender) to significant trauma like the end of a relationship or a death in the family or your own scary medical test results.

Now keep in mind that you are an adult. You have (at least the illusion of) some control over the circumstances in your life. You have years of experience to help you cope with difficult situations. You have (hopefully) a network of family, friends, professionals to help you get through it.

And, even then, any of those above challenges can make it hard to do your job. It can be difficult to focus on tasks. Difficult to work with others, more or less so depending on your relationship with them.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this over many years of teaching as I’ve had students who faced homelessness. Many of my students are always on the verge, including several in our school who were recently displaced due to a fire in their apartment building. Luckily no one was hurt, but it is unclear when/if they’ll be able to return to their homes. Some are staying with family, others are in long-term hotel situations. Many of my students live(d) with extended family or in apartments with multiple families. Others of my students have been in shelters when I’ve taught them. I am beyond impressed with the staff in the shelters and how hard they work to ensure kids have as much stability as possible as well as spaces for homework and opportunities for fun and enrichment. I’m also beyond impressed with parents who are facing such intense challenges but are doing so much to help their children feel safe, secure, and successful.

From Fran’s flickr

Homelessness is often seen as a problem faced by single, older men. That may be true for traditional homelessness. However, children and families are facing housing insecurity to a significant degree. Families may be staying with others for a while and then moving on. They may have a place and then lose it because of change in income or rent increases. There are so many factors that make it difficult for families to have a stable place to live.

This is a far-reaching problem that is surprisingly invisible to most of us. People who face homelessness, either consistently or on-and-off do an amazing job of continuing to function in our society in a way that makes their homelessness unnoticeable to most. Sara Goldrick-Rab has done a lot of amazing work around college students and issues of homelessness and food instability.

I got to thinking about this again because of a piece in the Washington Post a week ago. It could be easy to read that piece and think the researchers are overstating the problem, but if that’s your gut reaction, please pause and think more deeply. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the individuals being described rather that seeing it from the comfort of your stable home. I’m grateful to have never had to worry about where I would sleep at night or where my family and our things would be. Too many don’t have that luxury.

(It’s taken me a long time to write this. Quite literally as part of it sat in my drafts for months. Rereading it now I am uncertain why I wrote it. I’m overwhelmed by what so many parents and children are facing.)

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