Children’s Books About Homelessness

homeless children, homelessness

The United States is the industrialized nation with the largest number of homeless children and women. According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, there are over 1.6 million children in the United States who are experiencing homelessness. (In other words, 1 out of every 45 children in America are homeless.)  This statistic does not account for children at risk of becoming homeless, hungry children, and children experiencing poverty.  (CLICK HERE for more statistics and information about homeless children and families.)

It is reprehensible that children are experiencing homelessness.  It is an experience that is difficult for children to explain and discuss with teachers, friends, and family members.  It is also an experience that is impossible to understand for children who have never experienced homelessness and will never have to worry about the security of their housing or food.  The Institute for Humane Education has compiled a suggested reading list of children’s books about homelessness.  Books provide an avenue for discussing experiences.  These books are good for both children experiencing homelessness and children who have never experienced homelessness.

Below is the Institute for Humane Education’s list of recommended books for children about homelessness.  CLICK HERE to read more on the website of The Institute for Humane Education.

“Shoebox Sam” by Mary Brigid Barrett
2011. Grades 1–4. Delia and Jessie spend Saturdays with Shoebox Sam, who teaches them about making old shoes new again and helping those in need.
“The Lunch Thief” by Anne C. Bromley
2010. Grades 1-4.
Rafael notices the new kid stealing lunches (including his), and uses his mom’s advice to use his voice & not his fists to resolve the problem.
“December” by Eve Bunting
1997. Grades 1–4.
Simon and his mom live in the tiny cardboard house they’ve built for themselves. On Christmas Eve they don’t have much, but it’s more than the woman who comes knocking on their door has. Does their generosity bring them a miracle?
“Fly Away Home” by Eve Bunting
1991. Grades PreK–3. A young boy talks about his and his father’s lives living in an airport and has hope for himself when he sees a trapped bird find freedom.
“A Shelter in Our Care” by Monica Gunning
2004. Grades K–3.
Since moving to America from Jamaica after her father died, Zettie and her mom live in their car while they both go to school and plan for a real home.
“Sélavi: That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope” by Youme Landowne
2005. Grades 1–4.
Haitian street children band together and work to create a life for themselves.
“The Lady in the Box” by Ann McGovern
1997. Grades K–4.
When two siblings discover a homeless woman living in their neighborhood, they discover how easy it can be to make a difference in someone’s life.
“I Can Hear the Sun” by Patricia Polacco
1999. Grades 2–5.
A boy without a real home, Fondo feels lonely and unwanted. Then he meets Stephanie Michele, who takes care of the waterfowl at the pond and shares his sensitivity for nature. She teaches him how to help take care of the geese, especially one with special needs. When Fondo finds out he’s to be taken away, he looks to the geese for a miracle.
“The Can Man” by Laura E. Williams
2010. Grades 2–5.
Tim’s family doesn’t have a lot of money, but he really wants a skateboard for his birthday. When he sees Mr. Peters, “The Can Man,” who is homeless, collecting cans, Tim gets the idea to collect enough cans to pay for his skateboard, even though that means Mr. Peters gets less … it’s only until Tim’s birthday, after all. Tim really wants that skateboard, but a couple of encounters with Mr. Peters give him pause about what to do with the money he’s earned.

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Please Treat People Who are Homeless with Dignity and Respect

dignity, homelessness

People who are experiencing homelessness are often treated with disrespect and disregard for their humanity.  It is vital to the preservation of basic human kindness and decency that we all treat each other with respect and compassion.  A recent incident in Sarasota, Florida serves as a good reminder that society still has a long way to go before perfecting the art of human interaction.  On July 18, 2015, Sarasota police officer Andrew Halpin booked Randy Miller, a man experiencing homelessness, into the Sarasota County jail on charges of trespassing.  Trespassing and vagrancy ordinances are unjust measures for punishing and criminalizing homelessness in the United States.  They are a poor excuse for justice (and very expensive for taxpayers), but this incident’s cruelty went beyond the type of charges filed against Miller.  Officer Halpin threw peanuts at Miller as if he was an animal, creating a dehumanizing and probably a very humiliating experience for Miller.

In an article published on July 28, 2015, reporter Lee Williams of the Sarasota Herald Tribune reported on the incident:

“…the video — which is being seen around the world — of a Sarasota Police officer tossing peanuts at homeless prisoner like an animal in a zoo…

As the homeless man was being booked into the Sarasota County jail, Halpin tossed peanuts into Randy Miller’s mouth, whom he had arrested for trespass.

Miller, intoxicated and handcuffed, was unable to catch them with his mouth. Several fell to the ground.

Minutes later, Miller slumped out of his seat and began eating the peanuts off the booking room floor. Halpin kicked them with his boot toward Miller so he could better reach them on the floor.

A source familiar with Miller’s July 18 arrest says Halpin was giving the homeless man “dog commands” during the incident.

Halpin was suspended after news of the story broke. The incident is being investigated by the department’s internal affairs unit.

Miller, meanwhile, was released from custody Tuesday morning, after spending 10 days in jail.”

CLICK HERE to read the Herald-Tribune’s full report.

This is an example of an unacceptable but not uncommon practice.  People who are experiencing homelessness are frequently treated as less than human and everyone in society is responsible for that fact.  We all need to do better.  People who are experiencing homelessness are PEOPLE first and foremost, their lack of housing, their appearance and hygiene, and their class cannot define them and should not affect how society treats them.

KPCC Covers Vehicular Homelessness in L.A.

Homlessness, Los Angeles

People who are experiencing homelessness often live in cars, RVs, and other vehicles.  Through restrictive parking and public spaces regulations, Los Angeles has increasingly made it difficult for people who are homeless to remain in their vehicles.  The public news outlet, KPCC, has been covering the stories of people experiencing homelessness who are living in RVs and vehicles.  KPCC’s coverage also details the policies and enforcement practices that prevent and encourage progress in this area. CLICK HERE to read KPCC’s news coverage.  The KPCC news coverage also includes visual representations of data on this topic, such as a map that shows where people who are living in RVs and campers are concentrated throughout Los Angeles County.

Serving the Homeless in the Spirit of Eid al-Fitr

Homeless Women, Homlessness, Islam

Eid al-Fitr is the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.  Eid al-Fitr (also referred to as Eid ul-Fitr) is a time of celebration and many Muslims extend the spirit of celebration to people who are experiencing homelessness in their communities.  Such activities reflect the ethos of the Five Pillars of Islam.  The third pillar is giving zakat (support of the needy), and the fourth pillar is fasting during the month of Ramadan.  In addition, Muslims act on Fitrana, an obligatory charity which is to be paid to the needy prior to Eid so that the recipient(s) can afford food in time for the Eid holiday.  Fitrana differs from zakat in the calculation of the specific amount of charity given, but both tenants of faith show Islam’s dedication to assisting those who are experiencing homelessness and poverty.

Serving the Homeless

Community organizers across the globe have come up with many creative ideas for extending the Eid festivities to homeless community members.  A few years ago, in Slough (in the UK), the group Fasting Not Feasting held an Eid “flash mob”. This event shared the Eid celebrations with people who were experiencing homelessness in the community of Slough.  A flash mob is a group of people who assemble in public to perform an out of the ordinary act.  Flash mobs are most visible in dance videos that have “gone viral” online. This innovative event took the idea of a flash mob and replaced public dancing with a public meeting place for sharing food.  The organizers shared a location online and through “word of mouth” communication channels, and many people brought food to that location to share with people who were experiencing homelessness in Slough.  Sahil Khan, one of the organizers of the event, was interviewed by Muslim Voices about the event: “It was brilliant to see people of all different ages, faiths, races and backgrounds coming together to share a meal with homeless members of the community.”  For more information on this unique event, check out the BBC’s news coverage of the event.

There are also many organizations working to assist people experiencing homelessness that espouse the ethos of Islam in North America and the United States.  The United Muslim Movement Against Homelessness (UMMAH) runs many programs that serve people experiencing homelessness throughout the United States.

Muslim Women in the U.S. Need Better Services

Unfortunately, there are a lot of service agencies in the United States that do not respect the needs or dignity of Muslims who are experiencing homelessness.  Muslim women are especially vulnerable to these indignities. Muslim women who are experiencing homelessness in the United States are often treated poorly and their religious needs are ignored in shelters, housing, and social service programs.  In a poignant Muslim Link Op-Ed, Farkhunda Ali describes the challenges faced by Muslim women who are experiencing homelessness.

“Currently, in the DC Metropolitan Area and especially Baltimore, Maryland, there are many Muslim women without access to a stable Islamic living environment. Many Muslim women have often approached non-Muslim social service organizations that have placed them in shelters where they practice un-Islamic dietary habits, and disrespect the dress code of the Muslim woman. Leaving them with no other choice but to seek shelter for themselves and their small children, Muslim women have often accepted local county shelters and temporary housing. These shelters sometimes force them to compromise their Islamic beliefs in order to grant them a secure place to live. After all, some shelter is better than no shelter at all.  What does a Muslim woman do in times of disparity? Does she live under a bridge on cold windy nights, or does she live with a non-Muslim man who is often available to help her, but probably does not allow her to maintain her modesty? Also, the Muslim woman sometimes has to be separated from her children in order to accomodate foster living for them while she is forced to accept housing in women-only shelters….When a Muslim woman suddenly finds herself without a home, it is very difficult for her focus on building herself up to be able to find work or take care of her children when her primary concern is shelter, food, and clothing. Once the primary necessity is fulfilled, then she can pay closer attention on finding employment and doing other things to sustain her self. In any case, she needs temporary Islamic environment where she is able to fulfill her obligations of her faith and build herself to move on to the next step.”  (Read more of this fantastic article: http://mnisaa.org/homeless-muslim-women-shelter-an-idea-born-of-necessity)

The experiences of homeless Muslim women in the United States was also chronicled by the Washington Post in an article published on December 29, 2007:  “They [Muslim women experiencing homelessness] sleep in mosques. Or on the streets. Or in Christian-oriented shelters that might hold prayer meetings or services at odds with their own religious beliefs. For Muslim women without a place to live, particularly those who have been battered or are immigrants, being homeless can test their faith at the time they need it most.” (See: “Muslim Women Who Become Homeless Have Limited Options,” by Jackie Spinner)

There are still challenges to overcome when providing excellent services to Muslim women who are experiencing homelessness.  However, there is hope.  There are some very successful organizations that target Muslim women who are experiencing homelessness.  These organizations provide models for other agencies and service organizations.  For example, the Muslim Humanity ICNA Relief USA  organization runs shelters for women experiencing homelessness in twelve cities across the United States including Anaheim, CA, Chicago, IL, Phoenix, AZ, and Kansas City, MO.

Collective Duty for Action

As Eid festivities get underway this weekend, it is important to remember that we all have a duty to assist and serve people who are experiencing homelessness.  Those Muslim community organizers, faith leaders, and activists who work tirelessly to serve the homeless, the hungry, and the poor should be commended.  Non-Muslims have just as great an obligation to serve these vulnerable populations and should take note of the extraordinary efforts of Muslim community builders.

People who do not practice Islam should be just as concerned with providing exceptional services to Muslims who are experiencing homelessness.  Service organizations and agencies should strive to respect Muslim women who are experiencing homelessness.  Such agencies and organizations must provide an environment in which Muslim women who are experiencing homelessness feel safe, welcome, dignified, and spiritually whole.

Whether you are Muslim or not, I hope that you are inspired by the compassionate messages and practices associated with Eid al-Fitr, and that you strive to serve people who are experiencing homelessness in your community.

Homelessness and Incarceration

homelessness, mass incarceration

In the United States, ex-prisoners are more vulnerable to homelessness than those who have not been incarcerated.  According to a report published by the Vera Institute of Justice, 30-50% of all people under parole supervision in the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco are homeless.  The authors of the report, Nino Rodriguez and Brenner Brown, note that there are “…three main factors [that] contribute to and complicate homelessness among people leaving prison. First, ex-offenders face the same social and economic conditions that lead to homelessness among the general population. Ex- offenders returning to the community also confront barriers to housing associated with their criminal justice system involvement. Finally, there is a lack of ownership of the problem among government agencies and community organizations.” (The report can be found at: http://www.prisonpolicy.org/scans/vera/209_407.pdf).

Ex-offenders, especially those with felony charges on their records, face barriers when trying to secure housing and employment.  BAN THE BOX is an organization campaigning to end employment discrimination against those who have been convicted or imprisoned by abolishing the box on employment applications that asks job seekers to disclose any past convictions.

In addition, according  to a report by the Wall Street Journal, most ex-convicts are STILL unable to live in public housing after their release from prison due to archaic rules established in the 1990s.  The War on Drugs gave birth to federal rules that do not allow former criminals with specific drug charges (for example producing methamphetamines) to reside in public housing.  Many local housing authorities and states impose additional restrictions on public housing applicants.  These rules lead to the exclusion of ex-prisoners from public housing.  For more on the relationship between mass incarceration and homelessness, check out Dr. Michelle Alexander’s exceptional book, The New Jim Crow (2012).

People who are experiencing homeless are more likely to be arrested or re-arrested.  In a 2002 ethnographic study of incarceration rates of homeless men in San Francisco and St. Louis, researcher Teresa Gowan found that: “…crimes of desperation, aggressive policing of status offenses, and the close proximity of many ex-cons created a strong likelihood of incarceration and re-incarceration. Conversely, for jail and prison inmates, time inside consistently eroded employability, family ties,and other defences against homelessness: several of the men had become homeless for the first time directly following release from a carceral establishment…each trajectory reinforced the other, creating a homelessness/incarceration cycle more powerful than the sum of its parts, a racialized exclusion/punishment nexus which germinates, isolates, and perpetuates lower-class male marginality.”

The link between incarceration and homelessness is troubling.  There are many government and non-government agencies and organizations working to assist ex-prisoners in securing housing, employment, and supportive services.  Project Greenlight in New York, COMPASS in Rhode Island, and Tennessee Bridges in Tennessee are three of the many organizations across the country trying to implement innovative approaches to decreasing homelessness for ex-prisoners.

News Update: Mayor Garcetti Will Not Enforce Restrictive Ordinances on Homeless Residents of Los Angeles

homelessness, Los Angeles

Eric Garcetti addresses a crowd with Amy Elaine Wakeland at the Los Angeles Missions’s Annual Thanksgiving for the Homeless

As the last night of June 2015 drew to a close, Mayor Eric Garcetti revoked his support for the new ordinances (passed by the Los Angeles City Council last week) that would criminalize people experiencing homelessness and trample on their property rights.  In a statement, Garcetti said: “I strongly support the enactment of laws that enable the City to ensure that its public areas are clean and safe. However, the City must balance the need to maintain its sidewalks with the rights of the people who have no other choice but to live on them….[we need] smarter law enforcement, more compassionate treatment of homeless Angelenos, and [to] strengthen the City’s ability to withstand legal challenge.”

Garcetti refused to sign the ordinance into law and returned the ordinance to the City Council for further consideration.

The failed ordinances directed police officers to remove the property of people experiencing homelessness from the streets of Los Angeles after only a 24 hour warning.  The items would then be “stored” or impounded by the city for at least 90 days.  The ordinances would have denied people experiencing homelessness access to their own belongings–including important legal documents, tents and sleeping materials, and items of personal value.  The ability to access one’s property is central those trying to survive on the streets of Los Angeles.

These ordinances dripped with cruelty and unconstitutionality. Luckily, Mayor Garcetti withdrew support before these abhorrent ordinances could destroy the property and decrease the citizenship rights of people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles.

CLICK HERE to view a map that shows where people who are experiencing homelessness reside and survive in Los Angeles. The map was designed by the Los Angeles Times.