Talking About Homelessness with your Children
Homelessness is an issue plaguing cities and neighborhoods across the country. Children may see a person who is homeless or asking for money and ask you about the situation. Here are some suggestions on how to answer your child’s questions and what you can do to make an impact.
Answer the child’s questions directly, honestly, with empathy and compassion.
- When you speak about the person you see, use person-centered phrases such as “the man who is homeless” rather than “the homeless.” This emphasizes the person instead of the situation.
- Answer the child’s questions directly. Be short and concise. Don’t elaborate if it is not needed.
- Homelessness is a situation, and means that a person has no place to sleep, to eat, to shower and keep clean, or to keep their belongings.
Speak about social issues that can cause homelessness
There are several reasons that people become homeless
- A person has no money to maintain a home – a home costs money
- A person may not be connected to family/friends to help them
- A person may have a mental illness. A mental illness is when a person’s brain is not working the way it is supposed to.
- A person may not have money to maintain a home because they lost a job or got really sick and couldn’t pay their medical bills.
Using homelessness as examples
Don’t attempt to use a person who is homeless as an example of what could happen if the child doesn’t stay in school, go to college, get a job or uses drugs.
How Your Family Can Help
Your family can help those who are homeless in practical ways.
Make meals to share
If you make freezer meals or casseroles, you can divide meals into portions and take them to those who are homeless and hungry. If they need to be warm to eat, don’t forget to keep them warm before delivery.
Create hygiene kits
Many people who are homeless lack basic necessities. Filling large resealable plastic bags with some basics will be helpful.
- Nonperishable snack items (granola bars, dried fruit snacks, nuts, graham crackers)
- Socks, hats, scarves, gloves, underwear
- Female hygiene products
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, hand lotion, soap, wash cloth, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner, brush/comb, hair cutting shears, handi-wipes
- Basic first aid kit, band aids, tweezers, nail care kit
- Bus/train pass, money for transportation
- Pre-paid phone cards
- Notes of encouragement, children’s drawings, Bibles, books (click here to download a sheet of notecards)
Volunteer at a homeless shelter
Your family can volunteer at a homeless shelter, bringing cheer to individuals and families in need. To volunteer to pack lunches for The Salvation Army Mobile Feeding and Homeless Outreach unit, please contact: METVolunteer@usc.salvationarmy.org. We've also included Homeless Kit Cards for easy download.