Diversity Blast: Home and Homelessness

Welcome to this week’s Diversity Blast!

With the litany of holidays taking place, many of you have probably made plans to be with family recently. Often, being with family entails going home, wherever that may be. The feelings and images conjured by the word “home” are as meaningful as they are varied. Home can represent any number of emotions: comfort, respite and peace, and, conversely, discord, placelessness and uncertainty. The latter half of those emotions are perhaps more familiar to many of our most vulnerable students. The theme of this week’s blast is home and homelessness.

 

Child and Youth Homelessness

  • The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act sought not to define homelessness as the all-or-nothing state its name suggests, but rather as a lack of “fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence” which represents a wider array of temporary  housing. This definition of homeless children and youth includes:
    • Children living in motels, hotels, trailer parks or camp grounds (due to a lack of permanent residence)
    • Children whose families share housing, or are “doubled up” with another family
    • Children living in shelters
    • Children waiting to be placed in foster or adoptive care
    • Children living in public areas  such as parks and transit stations
    • Children living in vehicles

Reading through that list, we can begin to get a sense of the desperation and scrambling that belie the choices families make. We can also see that there are perhaps far more children living in homelessness than previously thought.

 

The Human Right to Housing

  • Similarly to the McKinney-Vento Act, the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative has opened up the definition of the human right to housing in the United States. Fair housing includes:
    • Security of tenure
    • Affordability
    • Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure, i.e. clean water and sanitation
    • Habitability and safety: protection from natural forces as well as threats to health
    • Accessibility for vulnerable and disadvantaged groups
    • Location that is free from pollution/environmental dangers and provides access to services and employment
    • Cultural adequacy: respect of cultural identity, as well as preservation of cultural landmarks and institutions

While the McKinney-Vento Act paints a clear picture of “fixed and regular,” NESRI’s fair housing dimensions speak to what is and is not adequate. Even if children have a fixed and regular nighttime residence, does the residence provide adequate sanitation services? Is the ventilation free from man-made carcinogens? Will the landlord allow the heat to run through the winter? As parents, teachers and education professionals can attest, these factors of adequacy make a significant impact on how children can function academically, social and emotionally.

 

A portrait of homelessness

‘Invisible Child—Girl in the Shadows: Dasani’s Homeless Life’

  • The best article to start this week’s blast is a timely one as it was published only Monday.  Andrea Elliot’s ‘Invisible Child—Girl in the Shadows: Dasani’s Homeless Life’ has received a lot of attention, due in no small part to Elliot’s phenomenal reporting and the protagonist’s enduring grit and spirit. Dasani is one of seven children living with her parents in a 520 square foot room in one of new York City’s worst temporary shelters, Auburn. The story, told in five chapters, is also riddled with mind-boggling data on childhood poverty and homelessness in America, for example, the fact that America has more children living in poverty than any other industrialized nation aside from Romania. ‘Invisible Child’ follows Dasani through her home, school and the playground to determine how her life has been impacted by her family’s homeless status. The narrative of transient living and homelessness that results casts a long shadow, and leaves the reader with many unsettling questions. An astounding read that is not to be overlooked.
    • From the piece, “Children are not the face of New York’s homelessness. They rarely figure among the panhandlers and bag ladies, war vets and untreated schizophrenics who have long been stock characters in this city of contrasts. Their homelessness is hidden. They spend their days in school, their nights in shelters. They are seen in glimpses—pulling overstuffed suitcases in the shadow of a tired parent, passing for tourists rather than residents without a home. Their numbers have risen above anything in the city’s modern history to a staggering 22,091 this month. If all of the city’s homeless children were to file into Madison Square Garden for a hockey game, more than 4,800 would not have a seat.”

21 Images of Where Children Sleep Around the World Paints a Powerful Picture of Inequality

  • Stunning portraits of children juxtaposed with the images of their bedrooms (or lack thereof) show the disparities between families across the globe.

Poor Kids from PBS’s Frontline series (film)

  • This documentary film shows several families facing chronic homelessness, transience and/or food insecurity due to a number of constraints.

 

Accessibility for vulnerable and disadvantaged groups:

‘Nashville Sees Surge in Homeless Families’

  • While Nashville’s rate of homeless individuals rose by only 3% since last year, the rate of homeless families rose by 25%, pointing to the hyper-vulnerability of families when it comes to home insecurity.

‘Where is Childhood Homelessness Getting Worse?’

  • An interactive map of the US depicting the growth of childhood homelessness over the past decade

 

Affordability:

How the Poor are Squeezed Out of the Most Affordable Housing

  • This brief research-based article shows the growing gap between the need for housing and the availability of affordable housing since the 1970s.

‘Harvard Study Finds the Rent Is Too Damn High’

  • In the past fifty years, housing prices have skyrocketed while wages have more or less flat-lined, causing many low-income families to be severely cost-burdened by housing costs (more than half of income goes to housing costs).

 

Culturally Adequacy

Since the construction of I-40, the Jefferson Street neighborhood of Nashville has, economically and culturally, shriveled to a husk of its former glory. Now, many are undertaking the task of restoring Jefferson Street as well as remembering what it once was while simultaneously keeping woes like predatory loan agencies at bay.

 

 

Services

  • Here in Nashville, SafeHaven provides shelter for families facing homelessness.
    • Referral Form here. You can also refer families who are currently housed, but could soon be evicted.         
  • MNPS’s Homeless Education Program, HERO also provides services for homeless children while empowering families with their legal rights, such as a child’s right to stay at his or her school during transitional homelessness
    • Parent Information sheet here

 

In Poor Kids, Mrs. Willis, a recently homeless wife and mother of 3, exclaims, “at least every man in America should have housing. The poorest man should have food and housing…but that’s not the way it is.” She’s right; housing is a basic human right, yet the standard of living for children is increasingly falling short of the bare minimum of fixed, regular and adequate.  However, what unites many of these narratives  is that many of the children involved report that the glimmers of hope they have in otherwise bleak lives often happen at school. They see education as a way through and perhaps eventually out of cycles of scarcity, poverty and homelessness. Like Mrs. Willis, they, too, are right.

 

Best,

Brynn

 

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