Homeless children face challenges, speaker says

One in 50 children in the United States is homeless, and growing up without a stable home environment can lead to physical, cognitive, social and emotional development issues, said Dr. Sharleen Kato, Seattle Pacific director of family and consumer sciences.

Youth homelessness is more common than many people believe, Dr. Kato said when she introduced Amy Weisband, director of marketing and development at First Place School and guest speaker at a homelessness forum last Wednesday.

“Homelessness is a symptom of a much bigger problem,” Weisband said.

Weisband explained how she once found herself homeless with kids to support.

She had a four-year college degree and was the head of her children’s parent-teacher association. Weisband said she never thought she would find herself homeless.

But after she discovered her husband was spending their money on other women instead of the mortgage on their house, she was forced to sell her car, walk away from her house and move in with a family friend. She said she was fortunate to have a good community that lifted her up when she was in need, but she said others in a similar situation with less support or education might not be as lucky.

Kato said children who are homeless are four times more likely to be sick and have respiratory problems than children with homes. They are also twice as likely to have asthma and earaches and five times more likely to have gastrointestinal problems.

Being homeless makes children more susceptible to violence, creating psychological trauma, Kato said. Going to school with little to eat or having to think about where they are going to stay for the night negatively affects a child’s education.

As a result, many homeless children struggle in school, making it even more difficult for them to rise above their circumstances, Kato said.

Students said they benefited from hearing about the specific complications of youth homelessness at the forum.

“I think it’s good to … understand that homelessness is a lot more multifaceted than we expect,” senior Alex Mikulas said.

Weisband now works for First Place, a nonprofit elementary school in Seattle run by donations. First Place’s mission is to break the cycle of homelessness by providing a positive educational environment for kids from an unstable background.

“[First Place offers] help for the whole family,” Weisband said.

The organization collaborates with its student’s families, requiring parents to engage in their child’s education. Instead of paying tuition, parents sign a contract saying they will be aware and active in their child’s education.

The school uses alternative hands-on educational approaches to get its students to their grade level, also teaching parents and students how to advocate for themselves.

Weisband said the school recently took a field trip to Olympia to teach the importance of self-advocacy.

Recognizing the importance of self-esteem in children, First Place provides clothes for its students, from companies such as Keens and Zumiez.

“I think the wardrobe is really essential,” junior Audrey Riddle said. “I’ve worked with youth who are homeless, and I know how looking good is really important. I think that we don’t necessarily assume that’s the same for children, but I think it’s a really important identity piece.”

Overall, Weisman said the problem isn’t homelessness, but the issues that lead to it.

“I appreciate the fact that [the forum] addressed that [homelessness] is a systematic issue and it’s not just one problem,” Riddle said. “It’s a bigger picture.”

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Title: Homeless children face challenges, speaker says | Author: Allison Northrop | Section: News | Published Date: 2012-02-29 | Internal ID: 8077

Allison Northrop

Features Editor Allison Northrop is a junior political science major.