Homelessness is everywhere. If you live in a large, economically diverse city, you probably already know homelessness is a local problem. If not, you might be surprised to learn how many school-aged children in your community are sleeping on friends’ couches or in shelters or other temporary situations.
Would you believe, for example, that last year in Marshfield Massachusetts, there were between 80 and 90 homeless school-age children over only seven schools? In this affluent, beachside community, that figure averages out to 13 kids per school who don’t have a permanent place to live.
If you live in Beverly, that number is 88. In Newton and Norwood, it’s 18. Chances are good that if you have a child in public school in Massachusetts, a family in your school community is experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
You Can Help Homeless Children in Your Town
How can you help homeless families when 5 minutes ago you didn’t even know they existed? As Mr. Rogers famously said, in times of trouble, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Here’s how you can find the helpers in your town:
- Start with the school district. Every school district has a homeless liaison. The liaison keeps the count of homeless families, coordinates services, and serves as one of the primary contacts between homeless families and school staff, district personnel, shelter workers, and other service providers. Your local homeless liaison is a great place to start for finding out how you can help kids in your community who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless — ask what their students need and what you can do to advocate for them in your town. You can find the person working within your local school district here.
- Call the school. Schools often have a member of their staff who knows the students who could use additional, anonymous support. This is often a school nurse, counselor, or teacher who has a keen interest in supporting homeless students. This person will know which families are struggling and what they need — gift cards to local grocery stores, back-to-school supplies, winter clothing, or healthy snacks to get them through the weekend — and can coordinate donations without compromising the family’s privacy.
- Contact DCF. The Department of Children and Families supports children placed in foster care in your community as well as children living with birth parents or family members in need of additional support. Find your local DCF office — they are often overlooked for donations of back-to-school supplies, backpacks, clothing, and other school necessities. Find out how you can advocate for the kids and families they serve.
Now that you know where to start, you can create your own movement like the people of Marshfield, who together rallied around students and families around the holidays and raised over $12,000 in a matter of weeks.
Or the Newton Local Parents Facebook group, which solicited families affected by the Government furlough and then collected 11 gift cards and more than $800 for a family that came forward anonymously. According to the group admin, who organized the effort, “The family is immensely grateful and many tears were shed in regards to the quick mobilization and overwhelming support for their situation.”
Examples like these exist in every town — people with the means and motivation to help, who just need to know where to start. So let’s get to work!