You know the questions are coming.
- How do people become homeless?
- Why don’t they have a bed to sleep in?
- So how can we help homeless people?
- What do we do first?
Age appropriate questions and answers
The children in your life are going to want to know why that person is sleeping on the sidewalk or pushing a shopping cart full of belongings.
You need to be ready with simple, clear, compassionate answers.
For a smaller child, you might have to elaborate a bit on how apartments and food and clothes all cost money.
With your preteen, you can talk more about how people sometimes lose their jobs or have medical conditions or other problems that prevent them from having a job.
You can also mention how rents are increasing and that there aren’t enough homes for everyone.
A high school student can handle a more detailed discussion about the lack of affordable housing and the challenges of finding a job if you don’t have a car or have kids at home to take care of.
If your child is six years old or younger, you’re probably going to hear why a lot
When you’re explaining to a younger child.
Take a moment to gently let them know that they are safe, even though others might be struggling.
And then, be as open as you feel as appropriate about what they see.
Preteens often want more details and ask solution-based questions.
You’ll be hearing HOW a lot from them.
Once you get past the basics teenagers who express curiosity are often action-oriented, so here come the what questions.
What can we do to end homelessness?
Wow, that’s a really good question.
We need more affordable housing in our community.
We can join a community action group and let local leaders know that we support building accessible, affordable housing for individuals and families in our community.
We also need better access to healthcare and more job support programs.
Start simple…Keep listening
When the children you care about begin asking about unhoused people they see in their neighborhood, start simple, and keep listening as the child responds to your answers.
No matter their age, try to respond with empathy.
Let them know that seeing homeless people makes you sad too.
No matter their age, you can let your child know that there are solutions.
Getting people into housing with the support they need could change countless lives.
Whatever you do, don’t brush off these questions with answers like, don’t worry about it. Or, you’re too young to understand.
No child is too young to learn about empathy and kindness.
If you plant the seeds of compassion early, our communities will grow stronger and more equitable for everyone.