Enter world of the homeless in city
In my role as Nightshelter manager I have always spent time talking to service groups and adult students about the Nightshelter and about homelessness and feel very at ease doing so.
With adults it is easy to get a message across and they are able to decide why they think people are homeless or sometimes decide why some people deserve to be homeless.
With children I am always trying to be careful about how I explain homelessness.
So recently an interaction I had with some children again challenged me to try and get a message across to them that would give them an insight into the world of the Nightshelter and homelessness.
I was recently visited at the Nightshelter by a couple of children from a country school who were doing a project on a social issue. I showed them around the shelter and informed them of the service we provide and the different types of guests we catered for.
After we finished the walk around we sat down and I asked them what they wanted to achieve from their project. One of them said very enthusiastically and seriously that they had a plan of building little houses on the side of the road for all the homeless.
After a short conversation they decided that maybe their project could be to host me visiting their school and talking to their class about homelessness and the night shelter.
They organised my visit and they had gathered 20 or so class mates and I did a power point presentation and at the end it was open for questions.
The first question was from a young girl. What would it be like to live in a car? I just explained that if you were living in a car and you were going to school it would be very hard to do your homework.
A comment from a young lad, ‘‘I think it’s sad that person doesn’t have anywhere to live.’’
Another question from a young girl, ‘‘should I give money to the man I saw on the street with a sign?’’
I replied, I’ll buy them something to eat but I won’t give them money, because sometimes people don’t spend money in ways that will help them. If I give them food I know this will help them.
One thing I have learnt when talking to children about homelessness is that they have a genuine curiosity about homelessness and that how I answer their questions will have a long term effect on their view of the homeless person.
I also believe that my answers need to model empathy and that a child needs to understand that homelessness is not a crime.
With ever-increasing numbers of homeless in New Zealand children are going to ask their parents questions about homelessness and my recommendation to any parent is to show empathy and answer questions as honestly and nonjudgmentally as possible.
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Peter Humphreys, Hamilton Christian Nightshelter.