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Let's guide our children out of poverty

Two Views • In the face of stark need, Portland citizens need to pitch in
by: Christopher Onstott Americorps volunteer Heather Lantz hands Emanuel Magdalen fresh zucchini from a food box donated by the Snow Cap food pantry to his home in Southeast Portland, where Emanuel lives with his mother and three siblings.

Being a child in a homeless family means that you are often cold, hungry, tired, bored, lonely, frustrated and sometimes angry.

If you and your family are not living in a vehicle, abandoned building or campground, then you are probably living in a shelter for homeless families or you are 'doubled up' with another family in their apartment or house.

Being a child in a homeless family means you are outside a lot of the time, going from place to place trying to find housing, receive services, find meals or just killing time. Many times you are in spaces that are crowded - sometimes overcrowded and sometimes not so clean. You may feel unwanted if you and your family are huddled in a library or shopping mall waiting for the time when the shelter opens in the evening or a service center opens in the morning.

Being homeless usually means relying on someone else to provide food for you and your family. Sometimes there is not enough for everyone. Sometimes you don't like what is being served to you, but you need to eat it anyway because your next meal may be a long time away.

You remember better times when you lived in your own place with your brother or sister and your parents. You gradually realized that things were going wrong. Mom could not pay the bills, and the electricity in your apartment was turned off for several weeks. You know that Grandma sent the money to get the electricity turned on again.

But even then, there wasn't enough food for everyone, and sometimes you had to eat cereal or crackers for dinner. At least you could get free lunches at school. That was great, except that you were still hungry at night and in the mornings and on the weekends.

It is hard to be a kid and go to school when your family is homeless. You will probably change schools many times as your family moves around staying with relatives or in a shelter. Whenever you change schools, it is often very hard to figure out what the new class is doing. Sometimes the class is studying things you missed at your old school because you were out so many days.

You miss your old friends, and it is so hard to make new friends. The other kids have things that you don't have: school clothes that fit well, warm jackets, all of the school supplies that the teacher requires and enough money to go on field trips with the class. Those are things that you used to have, but not any more.

That is what is so frustrating. You don't understand why your family is homeless. What is the matter with you and your family? Why can't you have the things that other kids have? Why can't your Mom or Dad get a job and be able to pay the rent?

You know that they are really trying to get work, but that nothing is working out. Lots of times you see your Mom crying because she feels so bad about having to stay in a shelter for homeless families.

You are one of 38 children in 26 families staying in the Winter Family Shelter operated by Human Solutions Inc. this winter. On any winter night, Human Solutions shelters or houses more than 500 homeless people in more than 150 homeless families and more than 225 of the 500 homeless people are children.

Human Solutions helps homeless families move, as quickly as possible, from homelessness into safe apartments. Human Solutions provides rent assistance to each family for approximately six months and helps parents find employment so they can support their families and themselves.

We help families build pathways out of poverty.

The mission of Human Solutions is to help homeless and low-income families attain self-sufficiency. The mission includes alleviating childhood hunger for as many kids as possible. The overall goal is that children who are homeless now do not grow up to be homeless adults. Breaking the cycle of homelessness is crucial to Human Solutions.

Human Solutions relies on help from the community at the holidays to keep the shelters and housing programs for homeless families open and operating at full capacity and to keep the employment programs open and available to as many people as possible. We rely on donations of financial support, donations of food for all of the meals at the Winter Family Shelter, and donations of volunteer time.

We ask individuals who have a little extra this winter to support Human Solutions so that we can help families who are homeless and have so little.

Jean DeMaster is executive director of Human Solutions Inc. in East Portland.