The “60 Minutes” segment on the daily challenges confronting schoolchildren whose families are homeless and live out of their cars is a stark reminder of how intransigent poverty can be in the lives of even our most vulnerable citizens. We take for granted the extent of the effects of economic hardship on children and youth, in part because we mostly see media images that reflect adult realities like job layoffs, foreclosures, and investment losses. The most heartbreaking consequence of any economic recession is that so many children have to suffer and feel the pain of food shortage, homelessness, and shrinking family resources. Thankfully, America’s most impoverished youth can still count on us to make sure public schools are accessible to them, to at least provide free breakfast and lunch and a sanctuary for learning for at least a good part of a day. And in most communities, there are churches and community organizations that do intervene to fill in the gaps in the lives of local families that do have to live in their cars.
For those of us who have been fortunate enough to escape the struggles associated with the current financial straits facing millions of Americans, we may never truly know what it feels like to have to tell a child that there’s no food for dinner, or no place to sleep for the night or take a hot shower. I salute those parents who are continuing against all odds to provide some semblance of a home environment for their children. It’s a miracle to witness parents and children continue to have hope and faith in the face of dire and threatening family circumstances. The obvious question for those of us who possess good will and a reasonable measure of social and moral responsibility is how do we help fill in the social and economic gaps in the lives of those who are being affected so severely? Are there simple ways to share our own resources in ways that will alleviate the pain and suffering?
What’s most important is that when we do have opportunities to lend a helping hand, we do our very best to make a difference in the lives of our neighbors because we never know when we may need the same spirit of generosity extended on our behalf. You can guarantee that many struggling families never imagined that they would be homeless and sleeping in their cars. We all know how to make cash and food donations to the usual charities and food pantries, but we can do even more to respond to the specific challenges that homeless children and their families are facing – rent or mortgage assistance, permanent work for moms and dads, afterschool childcare. We can partner more closely with local homeless shelters, social service organizations, and churches that house programs dedicated to locating and working with homeless families. These entities tend to have accumulated knowledge and an infrastructure that can facilitate our input. We can also pay attention to our own children, because they know well which of their schoolmates may not have a “home” or may not have things like clothes and school supplies.