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Are children bothered about homelessness?

LifeJackets founder Carrie Comfort on why children need opportunities to think about homelessness

Child reading book on floor of library

My four-year-old daughter and I found a homeless woman sleeping on the floor of the local public toilet. Until she moved, we thought she was dead. She woke and apologised for startling us and explained that it was safer for her to sleep in the day.

This was more than two years ago but my daughter still asks about the woman on the floor. You can tell that this had an impact on her – the awareness that there are people who have no home, no place to be safe and to sleep.

This fits with my experience of how children react to seeing people who are homeless. There are few children in London, or any big towns, who won’t have noticed that some people don’t have homes. And, like most injustice, children are often troubled by it.

“I was sure we’d find the stories we needed to help children see these issues through the eyes of others.”

We chose ‘home’ as a theme when I heard a statistic that 70,000 children in London don’t have stable housing. It was old when I heard it and I was really shocked (Shelter note 1.15 million households currently on waiting lists for housing).  As a youth worker, I’ve worked with children and their families in various situations where they have lacked stable or adequate housing, but had no idea that it was happening on this scale.

It left me wondering where children go to process this, to make sense of it. As an adult, if I’m concerned about an issue, I can take part in wider conversations, but much of that isn’t open to children. It is certainly not often open to children in an age-appropriate and hopeful way.

I knew it would be playing out in every classroom, in one way or another, but I also knew that we could help, that we could offer activities on housing and homelessness. And I was sure we’d find the stories we needed to help children see these issues through the eyes of others and to use that awareness in constructing their own ethical codes.

Children taking part in our Reading Challenge will think about what other kids may need from a new school and how they could help new classmates. They’ll think about the things we should all expect from a home and build their resilience by reflecting on what helps them feel they belong in their neighbourhood. In evaluating, we’ve heard how both the children with lived-experience of these issues and the children who have encountered these issues indirectly, have valued the chance to reflect on their experiences.

For homelessness to be solved, we need people who understand that change is possible. We’re inviting heads, teachers, governors, and youth workers to open up this possibility for their children.

Find out how LifeJackets helps kids tackle big issues through stories & poems. 

Take part in our FREE reading challenge now!