I am glad that the recent recession is making national media talk about poverty and child homelessness in America. But surprisingly enough, in Arkansas local media has almost nothing to report on homeless children who have nowhere to live. Not only is there a lack of permanent housing for children, but there is also no statewide campaign to make concerted efforts to stop more families from becoming homeless. The deepening recession means more home foreclosures and job losses.
Since last year, I have been thinking seriously about homeless children. Over the years, rarely did I see any homeless children on the streets until that September night when we gathered under the Broadway Bridge which connects the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock to sleep out with the homeless, an event organized by the Arkansas Homeless Coalition. I have never seen such a huge homeless population at one time. I was more shocked to see homeless children in the crowd. Their eyes were blank, their attitude completely emotionless. However, there was a little bit of a smile left on their faces. I still don’t know what that means, but maybe that’s the last ray of hope that they want to preserve for the future which enables them to live for another day on the street. For a second, I took pity on them, but they didn’t care about anything happening around them. To be a part of this event, to experience an evening with homeless advocates and community volunteers had no special meaning to them. They were probably aware that it is only a temporary showcase of love and affection and tomorrow they will be forgotten as others did in some other times.
Today, it is hard to ignore what is happening to homeless children who are on the frontline of the nation’s economic crisis. Arkansas has a history of ignoring its homeless population and that is probably why Little Rock once became the “meanest” city[i] in the nation for its treatment toward the homeless. More recently, America’s Youngest Outcasts[ii] report card cited Arkansas’ poor role in addressing the issue of child poverty and homeless children living on the streets or living at a temporary location with their families. There is no such program that would make ending child homelessness a statewide campaign in Arkansas. The shelters that house families and their children are only temporary when permanent housing are mostly needed to give homeless children stability in life. With our economy, creating more affordable supportive housing, emergency shelters and outreach programs for the homeless are required for solutions. To this end, our representatives should learn to work together with local governments, law enforcement officials, homeless service providers and advocates to prevent and end child homelessness.
Like yours and mine, these homeless children are also a part of our future. They deserve to go to school and seek every opportunity in life that America gives hope for. In this recession, if government could provide stimulus package money to Wall Street elites, then why not give a little extra to these children to ensure a possible way out of this vicious cycle of homelessness. Something needs to be done now. Otherwise, a homeless child today will become a homeless adult tomorrow and we, the fortunate, will blame ourselves for this dark episode of our society.
After that night, I never saw those children again under the Broadway Bridge or anywhere else. Maybe they have moved to a different city or to another welfare state. I am not sure about any progress in their journey, but I wish them all the best of everything. Most of all, I wish for them a place called home.
[i] National Coalition for the Homeless, 2004
[ii] National Center on Family Homelessness, 2009
Reefa Mahboob, M.P.A.