There is nothing more challenging in life than trying to survive in this world without a home. Homelessness of children known to child protection agencies defies all we know about the need for consistency and appropriate structure for children (Mignon, 2015, p. 96). Unstable housing is one of the major contributing factors, as to why families become connected with child welfare agencies (Mignon, 2015). In January 2014, about 578,424 individuals were classified as being homeless throughout the United States, which makes up a good portion of the homeless population (Mignon, 2015). Homelessness for children results from living in hunger, poverty and health problems than other children with housing stability (Mignon, 2015). Homelessness of families results from poverty, affordable housing and family violence (Mignon, 2015). In 2015, the Federal Government provided 4.5 billion in aid which was distributed amongst various agencies to address homelessness, but it was not enough to meet the need (Mignon, 2015).
My parents had always financially equipped me with great quality resources, such as cash allowance, clothes, electronics, food, shelter, etc. Growing up, I didn’t really understand what the word homelessness meant and why individuals become homeless. I had been close-minded on the topic for so many years because my parents had given me their perception of what it meant to be homeless. When families had failed to provide themselves with basic needs, such as food, clothing, nurture, and shelter, then it was simply out of pure laziness and not working hard enough in life. Also, those who are homeless have a lack of education and didn’t take theirs seriously. The negative perception that my parents had instilled into me on homeless people would go on to how I would define them in life through various instances.
In the fall of 2004, I came across a female by the name of Olivia at a park in East Newark, New Jersey (where I live). Olivia had clothes on that had multiple holes and stains in them. Her sneakers also didn’t match, one looking newer than the other sneaker did. Also, Olivia’s skin had looked like it hadn’t been washed for days, it had looked decomposed. When I had approached Olivia and asked her why she wore clothes that aren’t really appropriate to wear in public, Olivia replied by saying: these are the only clothes I have, my parents and I are homeless. Olivia also stated that her family sleeps under a bridge in Harrison, New Jersey, as well as staying in numerous shelters.
This was the first time that the word homelessness was introduced to me, and I completely felt sorry that Olivia was living under such harsh conditions. When I had approached my parents about this matter, they both had told me that being homeless is looked down upon by society in a shameful way, and Olivia is homeless because her parents did not work hard enough in life. This made me shamefully think of homeless people as lazy individuals. My parents didn’t want me to be seen with Olivia again because of the fact that she was homeless. Olivia ended up getting removed from her family by Division of Child Protection and Permanency, my mother was the one who made the report of Olivia’s current living conditions. Though Olivia wouldn’t be the only homeless person that I would come into interaction with, as well as contributing to the undesirable opinions that I had on homeless people for so many years.
One day while walking out of Home Depot in Jersey City, in the summer of 2007. I came across a single mother with two children standing in the corner within the parking lot. The single mother was holding a sign that simply said: my children and I are homeless, and we’re starving. It was because of the sign that the single mother of two held that caught my attention and made me walk over to them with a helping hand. At first, I was hesitant because I would be washing away the perception that my parents had instilled into me on homeless’ people, but my gut was deeply telling me something else.
When I had approached the single mother with spare change, she couldn’t thank me enough. I had asked her why is she homeless, the single mother responded back with: I lost my job and fell behind on rent, I was forced to leave my home. I was in grief for this family, which made me take both of my hands and look deep down into my pockets for more change. As I was handing the last bit of change I had to the single mother, my mom smacked my hand and asked: what I was doing in front of the homeless family? When I had explained the matter to my mother, she had explained to me that it’s not our problem that this homeless family is living under harsh conditions, and that she didn’t work hard enough on finding a new job. My mother also pointed out to me that she probably does have money and faking the homeless part in order to get more money out of strangers. I immediately had no longer fell in grief for this family, and simply saw homeless individuals as lazy actors trying to lure people into a lie.
It wasn’t until I took a Children and Families class at Rutgers University that had helped me to steer away from the negative beliefs that my parents had instilled into me on homeless people. At first, I thought of Olivia and her family as lazy individuals because of the fact that they were homeless. But it had turned out that the word laziness isn’t the responsible factor as to why individuals become homeless. I had learned in my Children and Families class that homelessness arises from multiple factors, such as lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty, domestic violence, divorce, low wages, mental illness, and physical disabilities. Any of these factors are enough to push people into living on the street. As I look back on Olivia and her family, being homeless was something they didn’t choose to be a part of. Olivia’s parents could have either lost their jobs or simply didn’t make enough money to provide themselves with the required resources needed for survival. The federal poverty line level for a family of four is $24,250.00, Olivia and her family could have fallen under this bracket. The knowledge that I had gained from my Children and Families class had washed away the negative perception that I had on Olivia and her family.
When I had discovered the homeless family (a single mother of two kids) in the Home Depot parking lot asking for help, I immediately had gone up to them with a helping hand. After I got caught doing so by my mother, I no longer had empathy for them and thought of this family as lazy actors trying to lure people into a lie for free aid. Because of the negative beliefs that my mother had reinstalled into me on homeless people. But the homeless family wasn’t putting on an acting performance at all. I had learned in my Children and Families class that single mothers are far more likely to live in poverty than single fathers and continue to do so over time. Also, single mothers earn only about two-thirds of what single fathers earn. The single mother of the two kids’ income was probably not enough for the family to survive off of. It’s evident that this family was facing harsh struggling conditions and really needed a helping hand.
The way I had once defined homeless people to be had completely changed because of the new knowledge that had been engrained within me from my Children and Families class. This new knowledge that I had obtained on homeless people had given me the opportunity to become open-minded, which take priority over the negative perception that my parents had instilled into me on homeless people. The words lazy, liar and actor no longer come to mind when I come into interaction with homeless individuals. The continuous interactions that I have with homeless people continue to help me understand more about the tough obstacles they face. Every time I see a homeless individual now, I immediately go up to them with a helping hand without having to worry about what my parents might say.
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