16 Mar How to Talk to Your Kids About Homelessness…And What They Can Do to Help
Picture this: You’re driving your seven-year-old to school and you’re stuck at a light. Out of the corner of your eye you notice a man in the median holding a sign that reads “Homeless. Please help.” You quickly shift your gaze to your child in the back seat, silently hoping he doesn’t notice the man ahead. But he does. What do you do?
I’ve spent decades serving individuals facing homelessness and addiction, and I’ve regularly observed parents approach these topics with their kids. It’s a tricky conversation to have. Homelessness, poverty and addiction are so visible in our community and ignoring them isn’t an option. Here are a few helpful hints and talking points you can use with your kids.
1. Model care and empathy
Kids take their cues and actions from you. If someone asks you for help, acknowledge the individual with compassion and avoid shaming. Try saying something like, “Hello, sir. I’m so sorry you’re hungry. I’m not able to give you money, but I can share my granola bar. Would you like it?”
2. Acknowledge the different reasons that lead to homelessness
Your child will want to know why someone is without a home. Be honest. Tell your child that circumstances surrounding homelessness are different for each person. Sometimes it’s due to something outside their control, like job loss or mental illness. In some cases, it’s due to poor choices, like substance abuse or gambling.
3. Share what help is available in your community
Let them know that there are agencies, churches and individuals uniquely equipped to help men, women and children facing homelessness. Tell your child about organizations – like Wheeler – that are set up to welcome in people without a home. Share about the programs that help people address addictions, learn new job skills, find safe and affordable housing, etc.
But don’t stop there! Ask your child how they see your family offering help and hope. For instance, “Lucy, I’m so proud you care so much about people in trouble. Let’s talk more about how we can help.”
Sam decided to support Wheeler Mission as part of his Bar Mitzvah celebration. He invited his guests to donate toiletries, clothing, or money to Wheeler in lieu of gifts to him.
1. Donate money to worthy organizations
Encourage your children to give sacrificially. Suggest donating a portion of their allowance or birthday money to an organization that cares for people in need. Your child may even suggest giving money directly to individuals they encounter. A helpful response could be, “I love that you want to help her. But sometimes, people spend money in ways that could actually hurt. How about instead, let’s give your allowance to a program that’s better able to help people in similar situations.”
2. Collect items to distribute at a local shelter
Encourage your child to hold a gift drive with their classmates or neighborhood friends. Individuals facing homelessness are in dire need of things like: hygiene items, socks and underwear. Organizations regularly need canned goods and other nonperishables for the meals they serve.
Left: Hunter worked with his family to donate 300 blankets! Right: These 3 students from Fishers Junior High did a coat drive for their school’s Make a Difference project. They were able to collect 250 coats to donate!
3. Volunteer with your child
Encourage your child to make a difference and serve at Wheeler Mission! Wheeler offers numerous opportunities designed specifically for families to serve together.
4. Pray together
Pray regularly as a family for your neighbors facing homelessness. Pray they find safety, help and hope in Christ.
Families volunteered together to sing Christmas Carols at our Center for Women & Children in Bloomington.