Programs Target Homeless Youth, Peers

This update on youth and homelessness is from KnowledgePlex.

As part of its effort to reduce homelessness in downtown Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is seeking to move children living on skid row to housing, reported the Los Angeles Times. For two years, a team of county social workers has roamed the skid row area, offering families mental health treatment, help accessing welfare benefits, and other assistance. When team members suspect that children are abused or neglected, they call a child abuse hotline operated by the county Department of Children and Family Services. DCFS sends an investigator to decide whether a child should be removed from his or her family. Providers and some county supervisors criticize the county for potentially removing children from parents who seek help just because they are homeless. The targeted outreach efforts may deter some families from accepting assistance, critics say. Social workers say they are trying to get children to safety while keeping families intact.

A nonprofit organization that seeks to enrich the lives of homeless children has launched “Playspace” programs in more than 130 family shelters throughout Massachusetts, reported Sentinel & Enterprise. Working with shelter residents and staff, the programs design and build “kid-friendly” spaces with books, building blocks, art supplies, and other mind-expanding tools, the article said. To date, more than 7,500 volunteers have been trained to lead the educational play activities at the participating programs, which serve more than 2,000 homeless children each week. Each week day, Horizons for the Homeless serves an additional 175 homeless children through three Community Children’s Centers, full-time child care centers that specifically target homeless children.

Miami-Dade Public Schools has launched homeless sensitivity training for elementary school children and teenagers, reported the Sun-Sentinel. The program, initiated by the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, seeks to protect homeless people by teaching teenagers “that the homeless have hopes and dreams just like they do,” the article said. In two separate instances over the last 15 months, teens in neighboring counties have been charged with beating homeless men, the article said. According to homeless advocates, Florida has had the highest number of attacks on the homeless. Nearly seven in ten attacks against the homeless are committed by youths ages 13 to 19, said the homeless trust’s chairman. The program’s centerpiece is a 13-minute video featuring Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning and several homeless children. Families with children are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population, the video says. The curriculum also includes lessons on how people become homeless and a test to gauge changes in attitudes. Broward County officials say they may consider adopting the curriculum.

Education on homelessness is part of Little Rock, Ark.’s City Year Young Heroes program, reported the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Under the program, middle-schoolers spend 16 Saturdays discussing and performing community service related to such issues as AIDS, drugs, and alcohol abuse. On a recent Saturday, youth participating in the program operating in Little Rock learned about homeless people from the service providers such as the Arkansas Supportive Housing Network. The participants then passed out snacks and supplies to men and women at a local soup kitchen. Despite concerns about how the children would react, the boys and girls mingled, said a member of the Arkansas Homeless Coalition.

Walking a Thin Line for Skid Row Kids
04/16/2007 | Los Angeles Times

Homeless Children and Families Provided With Educational, Recreational Space at Shelter
04/15/2007 | Sentinel & Enterprise (Fitchburg, Massachusetts)

Class Teaches About Homeless; Aim of Course is to Instill Sensitivity in Youth
04/14/2007 | Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)

Program Gives Kids Peek into Lives of the Homeless
04/15/2007 | Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock)