I am ashamed to admit that, until last year, I didn’t realize that there were homeless families on the North Shore, not that I really gave it much thought (shameful, as well). Unexpectedly, some time last year, I happened to notice a listing in the newspaper for volunteers. As I read on, I was taken aback to learn that the volunteers were needed specifically to play with homeless children in Peabody. Peabody, Massachusetts? I know Peabody is bigger than Ipswich and has the challenges that go along with that, some rough neighborhoods and teens that grow up a bit faster than most (I knew a girl from Peabody when I was a kid and she was smoking cigs at age 13 ~ I was aghast!)… Still, I was really struck by this image of homeless children just down Route 1, a short drive from home, in the town where my parents live in a lovely retirement community.
Let’s face it, in our relatively sheltered community (hey, I’m not knocking it, just stating the reality), the only times I’ve seen homeless people have been in Boston and NYC (and only a handful at that), and more so only last summer, in Baltimore, where there were many homeless people, all men as I recall, who were referred to in the hotel pamphlet as “pan-handlers” (this in a section devoted to educating the tourists with “how to” information regarding appropriate behavior should one be approached by one of these people). To be blunt, these homeless men frightened me and my “mother bear” instinct was in overdrive as I hurried the kids past them. And, that’s the image “homeless” conjures up for me ~ mostly men, down and out, likely emotionally unstable or addicted to drugs or booze. I’ve not thought of them as lazy or stereotypical “bad guys.” I’m sympathetic. But, then I get on with my busy life. To stop and consider that there are homeless families? That must be really rare. Or is it?
The following stats are quoted on the Horizons for Homeless Children website (the site of the organization that I had read about in the newspaper, the group that was looking for volunteers to play with the homeless children). Here are some sobering stats from their site:
JULY 2007: New data suggest that there are at least 96,000 homeless children in Massachusetts. Read more.
Nationally approximately 500,000 children aged 0-5 years
old experience homelessness in the course of a year.
(Source: Urban Institute, 2000).
Tonight over 1,200 families will be staying in publicly funded family shelters in Massachusetts. Within these families, there are 1,200 children under the age of five.
(Source: Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance).
Compared with low-income housed children, homeless children experience more health problems, developmental delays, increased anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, and lower educational achievement.
(Source: National Center on Family Homelessness, 1999).
Here’s the link to these statistics: http://www.horizonsforhomelesschildren.org/Statistics.asp
Horizon For Homeless Children works with 23 family homeless shelters in the North Shore/Merrimack Valley alone. If you, like me, start to feel understandably upset to learn these facts, remember that our upset regarding these statistics is nothing compared to what it must be like living as one of those statistics, a nameless statistic that most people aren’t even aware of, one of those kids. For those of us who are parents, the homeless parents of these homeless kids come to mind, parents who likely face feelings of inadequacy that we can’t even imagine and an uphill battle that must seem insurmountable in this tough economy where it’s easy to falter and much harder to undo mistakes, financial or otherwise.
Okay, so what’s my point? What happened to my typically cheerful self? I’m still here and I want to work to make a difference. Here’s the good news. The North Shore has some great organizations to help those in need, including those who are homeless, people facing problems of addiction and those living in or running from abusive relationships. So, while it pales in comparison to the work being done by the volunteers and social sector workers on the “front lines” of helping these fellow North Shore community members, I really want to be part of the solution.
If you haven’t noticed it yet, I’m into quotes these days and one of my favorites is, “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” To me, this quote isn’t about a person’s level of involvement in the past, or to generate feelings of regret (a wasted emotion). It’s a call to action during these changing times. There are many people already working toward a solution. Good people trying to make a lasting difference. Everyone has a different issues in their lives, different ability to help. I’m suggesting that we should each at least be aware of the choices we make to help in some way.
Together, we can do more. Not everyone has the time or can make the time to go play with those homeless kids, though I encourage those interested to check out the site’s volunteer opportunities http://www.horizonsforhomelesschildren.org/How_To_Help_PAL_opportunities.asp ). In our own way and to varying degrees, we can do our best to try to help, to be a part of the solution in whatever way we are able.
Once I get the business up and running, we’ll take a closer look at helping Horizons for Homeless Children increase awareness of the problem and supporting their efforts toward a solution. For now, I’d like to share some information on donating goods and services that is from Horizons for Homeless Children’s website. I encourage you to visit the website and see if you have anything you could donate that they currently need.
Here’s an excerpt from their donation page:
Donating Goods and Services to
Horizons for Homeless Children
Horizons for Homeless Children relies on the support of the many people who give goods and services.
- If you are interested in donating goods, please review our wish list below. If you have questions regarding donations, please contact 617-445-1480.
- If you are interested in donating services such as printing, catering, design, public relations or other services, please contact 617-445-1480.
Horizons for Homeless Children Wish List … High Priority Items
- Conference room chairs
- 2 bookcases, no larger than 3′ wide, 4′ tall and 1′ deep
- 1 bookcase, no larger than 3′ wide, 6′ tall and 1′ deep
- 1 5×3′ bulletin board
- 2 office chairs
- Electric oven
- Electric washing machine
For the details on how to give and to read the list of items needed on an ongoing basis, check out the website. Here’s the link:
Rather than feeling guilty or ashamed about not helping in the past, I’m looking forward with hope and determination to making a difference in a number of positive ways in the lives of our fellow community members. For all the activities, opportunities and products I’m planning for in my new business, I think there is nothing more important than my plans to incorporate into our regular calendar donation drives that will help those in need by helping existing local organizations like Horizons for Homeless Children and through the increased awareness our activities will help to create. I look forward to sharing these opportunities with those who share my desire to help. By helping to make life better for others, we will make our own lives better, richer, more meaningful.
Off to learn about cash flow – yuck! N.