The question was simple enough: what kind of work did you do with homeless children?, a question recently posed to me by a college student working on a paper.
My initial reply was the standard stuff, the recitation of running a shelter for 15 years, blah, blah blah....
Then looking over the email to make sure I didn't send something stupid, I reconsidered my generic answer. This was a college student I was writing to, someone who's making life-altering career plans. "Running a shelter," doesn't quite describe the reality of running a shelter. Nothing much could, despite my gallant effort in my book, Crossing the Line: Taking Steps to End Homelessness.
So I scraped the cobwebs from that part of my brain that I haven't visited for awhile, the part that kept me going for 15 years of insanity/immense satisfaction, and came up with this list:
I’ve tucked in kids, growled at them when they wouldn’t go to sleep, hugged them when they needed a hug, played with them, held them in a safety hold designed to keep them from harming themselves and others, found Halloween costumes for them, driven them to school when they’ve missed the bus, helped with homework, fought for their right to get into/stay in school, arranged for funerals and gone to graduations or other celebrations.
We tend to dismiss, or even overlook totally, the work that goes on to keep people alive, to further their chances to succeed in an increasingly unforgiving society, to buffet the vulnerable from the far too common horrible realities. That's not an all inclusive list, nor is it unique to me. An incredible force of dedicated people across this country do this and more every day and night.
That's not an all inclusive list, nor is it unique to me. An incredible force of dedicated people across this country do this and more every day and night.
So, if you know shelter staff, or someone who works in grueling conditions that typify the human service work, give them a thanks or a hug, or in some way let them know that you appreciate their dedication.
And if you want to do something directly that will take a few moments of your time and will have far-reaching effects for homeless kids across the country, participate in our Piggies' Action Project. Even better, circulate it to your friends, colleagues, anyone who cares about kids and wants to draw a line in the sand for Congress to heed, one which redefines homelessness to actually try to help kids.
Seems to me that the way things are going in this beleaguered country we're going to find ourselves on the short end of personnel to operate life-saving human service programs, the safety net if you will. The least we can do, since we don't manage to pay living wages to people in this kind of work, is to let them know we appreciate their efforts.