Life can be circumstantial. Fortunately, that is not the rule or we as a civilization would be doomed. We exult that we can live our lives beyond our circumstances, beyond our experiences, beyond our immediate conditions – we live for the hope, dream and reality that we can live better, be better, and do better. But without question, it is harder if you are homeless.
If you are reading this blog, you are probably not homeless. You probably do not know anyone who is homeless. And perhaps you have no interest, understanding, or compassion of those who are homeless.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are over 500,000 people across the US characterized as homeless. “Homeless” are those people living in a space not intended as a place meant for human habitation (on the street, in an abandoned building…), a shelter, temporary housing…
Regardless of your current condition, it could easily be argued that we are all on the edge of homelessness if but a few turns were improperly or circumstantially navigated. Some of us are more likely to find ourselves in this situation than others, such as people of color and those who have grown up in economically depressed environments. Lose a job, be unable to pay rent or mortgage, lose credit, have your identity stolen and lose access to critical funds… I don’t care who you are or how well heeled you may think you are, you are not immune.
Think about the children of homeless families. Homeless children in grade school have a hugely increased percentage of missed days in school. At a minimum, that is a major issue in their likelihood to get a full education, to compete in the workforce if and when they graduate, and end the cycle of poverty and homelessness. According to the ICPHusa.org (Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness), the typical elementary school student that was homeless missed 88 days of school – half the school year!
What about the babies under the age of five, prior to kindergarten and elementary school, who are experiencing homelessness? These children need love, attention, food, safety, and a roof over their head – you know, the things most of us take for granted!!
Just in the city of Washington, DC, there are approximately 2,700 homeless children under the age of 5! Yikes! How does a parent, and typically a single parent (the largest percentage of homeless people are single individuals) find a job when they simultaneously must care for these babies?
Consider also that the jobs that may be most available for many less educated workers tend towards service industries, working in hotels, restaurants etc. – jobs that typically have non-traditional hours.
So how does one start to break this cycle of poverty and homelessness? Cue: Bright Beginnings.
Bright Beginnings, a non-profit organization situated very discreetly inside the Perry School building in Washington, DC, focuses on breaking the cycle of poverty in young families by providing immediate family solutions that include daycare for homeless children under 5 years of age, wrap-around services in support of helping the parents to stabilize their environment, and advocating with city officials in support of breaking this cycle of homelessness and poverty.
Talk about a worthy goal: enriching the quality of life for young infants, children and families experiencing homelessness!
While Bright Beginnings offers extremely valuable early education, it also provides these children with a safe place to exist – even just a comfortable and safe place to sleep for a few hours! Yes, these are things we take for granted. Services are offered from 7 am until 11:30 pm, to help support those parents working non-traditional work hours.
For those who may not be able to make it to the daycare facility, Bright Beginnings offers a home visiting program. The “home”, as you might guess, may not be your traditional home situation – it may be a shelter, or wherever the family resides.
Other services offered include mental health, physical health, wellness services, as well as workforce development services; services to help break the cycle of poverty and homelessness wherever the willingness, opportunity and need exists.
Bright Beginnings will open a second site later this year, in a location that is more centralized to the needs of homeless families in Ward 8. This new facility will enable Bright Beginnings to serve an additional 100 children.
Remember what I said earlier about 2,700 homeless children under the age of 5 in this city? Bright Beginnings can currently serve about 240 children, and will serve more than 300 children next year. Even with this increase, there is a dearth of places for the other 2,400 children to go. There is much work to be done, but this is a great start.
As you might guess, funding this operation is through a combination of federal and state grants, foundations, and charitable donations. As you consider your own charitable donations in the year ahead, please consider the worthwhile and under-served needs of these homeless children. Their future is our future!